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Data on the impact of COVID-19 vaccines on mortality in England

Update

Analysis carried out by Public Health England (PHE) suggests that COVID-19 vaccines have prevented thousands of deaths in those aged 70 and older in England in the initial months of the vaccine programme.

This article was published on
March 25, 2021

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Impact of COVID-19 vaccines on mortality in England

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This work has not been scrutinised by independent experts, or the story does not contain research data to review (for example an opinion piece). If you are reporting on research that has yet to go through peer-review (eg. conference abstracts and preprints) be aware that the findings can change during the peer review process
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Expert Comments: 

Prof Sheila Bird

The unattributed PHE/Warwick paper released by Public Health England presents good news about vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 with an estimated 6000 COVID-19 deaths prevented in January and February 2021.

But the paper is light on detail. In particular, how the weighting of ‘vaccine impact’ changed over time because the mix of vaccine-types changed; and whether impact was differentiated by whether the 2nd Pfizer/BioNTech dose was delivered on the 1/22 days randomized-trial schedule. The 1/22 schedule applied was half of roughly 650,000 80+ year olds in England (but not Scotland) who received their 1st Pfizer/BioNTech dose before 4 January 2021 [England’s Serendipity Cohort] and for one-quarter of around 440,000 others, mainly health or social care workers.

Dr Julian Tang

The fact that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce deaths in those vaccinated is not surprising – but the size of the effect (4 million doses given over 3 months Dec-Feb to save 6100 lives), seems relatively small compared to the impact of earlier interventions and lockdowns over a similar 3-month (Mar-May 2020) period during the earlier part of the pandemic – to reduce the spread of  the virus in the first place.

A UK modelling study showed that at least 21,000 lives could have been prevented with lockdown one week earlier:

‘Among control measures implemented, only national lockdown brought the reproduction number below 1 consistently; introduced one week earlier it could have reduced

first wave deaths from 36,700 to 15,700 (95%CrI: 8,900–26,800).’ (https://www.imperial.ac.uk/mrc-global-infectious-disease-analysis/covid-19/report-41-rtm/)

And a US modelling study showed a similar effect – of earlier interventions to reduce the spread of the virus:

‘The counterfactual simulations indicate that had observed control measures been adopted 1 week earlier, then the United States would have avoided 601,667 [95% credible interval (CI): 464,381 to 722,880] [52.6% (40.6 to 63.1%)] confirmed cases and 32,335 (23,600 to 40,573) [49.4% (36.1 to 62.0%)] deaths nationwide as of 3 May 2020 (Fig. 3, A and B).’ (https://advances.sciencemag.org/content/6/49/eabd6370)

Particularly in the week in which we are remembering the date of the first UK national lockdown and all the lives lost to COVID-19, we should not forget the reasons why they are not still with us to benefit from the success of the current vaccine rollout.

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