SANTA MONICA, Calif. — It’s no secret that the COVID-19 vaccine is helping to turn the tide in the pandemic, but now researchers have numbers to back it up. A new report estimates that America’s early COVID-19 vaccination campaign prevented just under 140,000 American deaths and over three million coronavirus infections.
After calculating lives saved across all 50 states and the District of Columbia, researchers from the RAND Corporation conclude the average U.S. state saw five fewer COVID-19 deaths per 10,000 adult residents as a result of vaccination efforts through May 2021. After adjusting for population size, the study reports New York saw the biggest drop, with 11.7 fewer COVID-19 deaths per 10,000 adults. Meanwhile, Hawaii experienced the smallest decline with 1.1 fewer COVID-19 deaths per 10,000 residents.
“This study brings into focus the dramatic success of the early months of the nation’s coronavirus vaccine rollout,” says Christopher Whaley, a policy researcher for the nonprofit research organization, in a media release. “The findings provide support for policies that further expand vaccine administration to enable a larger proportion of the nation’s population to benefit.”
To date, the COVID-19 pandemic has killed over 4.3 million people worldwide and more than 600,000 Americans. While vaccine access and use has varied greatly from state to state (and even neighborhood to neighborhood), the introduction of coronavirus vaccines over the past year has helped stabilize and reduce both infection and death rates.
Vaccine’s life-saving impact varies from state to state
To better examine the impact of initial vaccination campaigns, researchers from both Indiana University and the RAND Corporation created a series of models capable of simulating the amount of COVID-19 deaths that may have occurred without a vaccine. The team then compared the actual number of deaths with the estimates produced by their models. The difference between those results provided an accurate estimate of how many lives early vaccine rollouts saved.
Researchers used state vaccine data from the Bloomberg COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker and COVID-19 death information from The New York Times’ Coronavirus (COVID-19) U.S. database. The data spanned a period from Dec. 21, 2020 to May 9, 2021.
Each state’s vaccination rates progressed at their own rate. For example, while Alaska reached 20 doses per 100 adults on Jan. 29, 2021, it took until Feb. 21 for Alabama to do the same. Meanwhile, California was the first state to reach 120 doses per 100 adults on May 6. Many states have yet to reach that milestone.
While it is somewhat uncouth to equate lives to dollars, study authors estimate the economic value of all U.S. lives saved by vaccines is likely somewhere between $625 billion and $1.4 trillion. In comparison, the U.S. government allocated $13 billion toward vaccine development and manufacturing through 2020.
“Our results suggest that further efforts to vaccinate populations globally and in a coordinated fashion will be critical to achieving greater control of the COVID-19 pandemic,” concludes first study author Sumedha Gupta, an economist at Indiana University-Purdue University Indianapolis.
The study is published in the journal Health Affairs.