Twenty million lives

In the first year of global vaccination programs, close to 20 million out of a potential 31 million coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) deaths were prevented worldwide, according to a study. 

Researchers from the Imperial College London MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis estimated the impact of global vaccination programs by using an established model of COVID-19 transmission facilitating country-level data for officially recorded COVID-19 deaths in 185 territories.  

Published this June in The Lancet, the study covered the first year that COVID-19 vaccination programs were implemented around the world, from Dec. 8, 2020, to Dec. 8, 2021. 

To account for under-reporting of deaths in countries with weaker surveillance systems, they carried out a separate analysis based on the number of excess deaths recorded above those that would have been expected during the same time period.  

Where official data was not available, the researchers used estimates of all-cause excess mortality. These analyses were compared with an alternative hypothetical scenario in which no vaccines were delivered.  

The model accounted for variation in vaccination rates between countries, as well as differences in vaccine efficacy in each country based on the vaccine types known to have been predominantly used in those areas. 

Health data company Airfinity added further analysis to the Imperial College London study using its unique time series data set on vaccine distribution. Taking the study’s findings on deaths averted per country, Airfinity examined which vaccines were administered in each country to determine the breakdown of lives saved per vaccine.  

Using this methodology, Airfinity calculated that AstraZeneca saved 6.3 million lives; Pfizer, 5.9 million lives; Sinovac, 2 million lives; and Moderna, 1.7 million lives. 

Airfinity analytics director, Dr. Matt Linley, noted that AstraZeneca and Pfizer both succeeded in scaling up their vaccine production quickly and delivering doses before other manufacturers.  

“AstraZeneca may have saved the most lives due to where its primary series was distributed and who received it. Its vaccines first went to older age groups in high income countries and nations with less robust healthcare systems. Both factors would have resulted in averting more deaths in the first year of vaccinations,” he said. 

The largest real-world evidence study for a COVID-19 vaccine reported to date in the US showed that the single-shot Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine has a stable vaccine effectiveness of 79% for COVID-19-related infections and 81% for COVID-19-related hospitalizations.  

There was no evidence of reduced effectiveness over the study duration, including when the Delta variant became dominant in the US Sequencing data were not available for analysis. The study included 390,000 people who received the Johnson & Johnson COVID-19 vaccine versus approximately 1.52 million unvaccinated people matched on age, sex, time, three-digit zip code, and comorbidities and predictors for COVID-19 infection severity conducted from March to late July 2021.  

A booster shot of the J&J vaccine given 2 months after the first vaccine provided 94% protection against symptomatic (moderate to severe/critical) COVID-19 in the US. 

An expert review has concluded that the most-studied COVID-19 vaccines provide consistently high (over 90%) protection against hospitalizations and deaths, regardless of variant.  

Conducted by experts from Southeast Asia including Filipino infectious disease specialist Dr. Rontgene M. Solante and supported by analysis of Asian and relevant international data, the expert review also found that this protection appears equivalent for mRNA vaccines (Pfizer and Moderna) and vector vaccines (AstraZeneca). 

According to the Imperial College London research team, COVID-19 vaccination has substantially altered the course of the pandemic, saving tens of millions of lives globally.  

However, they pointed out that inadequate access to vaccines has limited the life-saving impact of COVID-19 vaccination in low-income countries, reinforcing the need for global vaccine equity and coverage. 

The International Federation of Pharmaceutical Manufacturers and Associations (IFPMA) calls on manufacturers, governments, and non-governmental organizations to work together and take urgent steps to address vaccine inequity. Immediate action must focus on stepping up responsible dose sharing and maximizing production without compromising quality or safety. 

According to the study, 20 million lives have been saved because vaccines work. COVID-19 vaccines lower the chance of getting the virus. They can also protect a person from getting seriously ill. Finally, they make a vaccinated person less likely to infect others. However, vaccines won’t work if people don’t take them. 


Teodoro B. Padilla is the executive director of Pharmaceutical and Healthcare Association of the Philippines (PHAP), which represents the biopharmaceutical medicines and vaccines industry in the country. Its members are at the forefront of research and development efforts for COVID-19 and other diseases that affect Filipinos.