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.
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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.
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.