The Washington PostThe Washington Post

The vaccines were a biomedical triumph. They reached too few.

By Editorial Board

08 Jul 2022 · 2 min read

Editor's Note

This opinion piece reports on the global failure - particularly by those in the West - to ensure equal vaccine distribution and explains how different it could have been, if the WHO advice was met.

Stop and reflect on the success of the coronavirus vaccines. While most vaccines take five to 10 years to develop and manufacture, the remarkable mRNA shots appeared in less than a year. They were safe, efficacious, free, and dramatically reduced serious illness and death, one of the great biomedical achievements of all time. Yet their results could have been even better.

A study by Oliver Watson and colleagues at the MRC Centre for Global Infectious Disease Analysis at Imperial College London, published June 23 in the Lancet, sheds light on the scope of the achievement. Using mathematical modeling to examine 185 countries and territories, the scientists found that the coronavirus vaccines saved 19.8 million lives in the first year of vaccination, starting Dec. 8, 2020. This is based on a broad definition of pandemic suffering, the estimated excess death toll, and amounts to averting an astounding 63% of all deaths - in other words, cutting the loss by more than half. By a narrower definition of pandemic suffering - officially-reported deaths - coronavirus vaccines prevented 14.4 million deaths, or 79%. A separate study published earlier, consistent with the latest one, showed that vaccines prevented about 1.1 million deaths in the United States in the first year.

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