The COVID-19 vaccine saved over 1,000,000 lives across Europe between December 2020 and March 2023, according to new research presented at this year’s European Congress of Clinical Microbiology & Infectious Diseases (ECCMID) in Copenhagen, Denmark. Over 90% of lives saved were adults aged 60 and older.
These estimates by the WHO/Europe show the importance of COVID-19 vaccine programmes and highlight the need for countries with low vaccination to encourage older patients to receive their vaccines.
Since the pandemic started in early 2020, over 2 million COVID-19 deaths have been officially recorded by WHO/Europe. Countries in the WHO European Region — those in the European Union and European Economic Area — started COVID-19 vaccine programmes to protect vulnerable groups from severe disease. Using weekly reports of deaths and vaccination doses in 26 countries between December 2020 and March 2023, Dr. Margaux Meslé, Epidemiologist at WHO/Europe, and his team calculated the number of lives saved by vaccination dose and age groups.
The results suggest that the majority (96%) of the lives saved were in people aged 60 years and older. For these people, the first booster accounted for almost two-thirds (64%) of lives saved. Including all age groups, vaccines were most effective during the Omicron wave, saving about 570,000 lives, representing about half of all lives saved. These values do not consider the indirect effects of vaccinations, differing healthcare services in each country, and non-pharmaceutical interventions.
“We see from our research the large numbers of lives saved by COVID-19 vaccines across Europe during the pandemic. However, too many people in vulnerable groups across the WHO European Region remain unvaccinated or partially vaccinated. We urge people who are eligible and who have not yet taken the vaccine to do so,” says Dr. Richard Pebody, Head of the High Threat Pathogen Team at WHO/Europe.