Michigan Association of Health Plans

Study says vaccination would have prevented about one-quarter of all U.S. COVID deaths

This story appeared in Michigan Advance. Read more here

As COVID-19 numbers begin to rise again, both nationally and in Michigan, a new analysis has given additional weight to the already overwhelming evidence that vaccines do make a difference.

In fact, according to the Peterson Center on Healthcare and Kaiser Family Foundation (KFF), since June 2021 when every American adult had access to a coronavirus vaccine, more than 234,000 Americans have died who might otherwise be alive today had they been immunized. That figure represents almost a quarter of the nearly 1 million people in the U.S. who have died of COVID-19 since the start of the pandemic.

The estimate was arrived at by first examining COVID-19 deaths among adults in the approximately ten months after vaccines were widely available, June 2021 through March of this year. That was determined to be about 389,000 adult COVID-19 deaths.

Researchers then estimated the preventable deaths by screening for vaccination status while providing controls for both age and vaccine efficacy, which ranged from 91% for June through December 2021 to 79% from January through March 2022. Using that formula they arrived at the approximation of 234,000 preventable deaths.

However, that number is likely an undercount as the effects of booster shots were not included in the analysis.

“While it is clear that vaccine effectiveness increases with booster shots – CDC estimates a 94% effectiveness against in-hospital death or ventilator support with a booster (third shot) – we do not estimate the potential effect of booster protection here on deaths among unvaccinated people,” states the analysis. “Had we done so, we would have found that even more unvaccinated deaths – as well as some vaccinated deaths – could have been prevented if they had not only been vaccinated, but also boosted.”

In Michigan, there have been nearly 36,000 COVID-related deaths, while the overall vaccination rate hovers at just below 67%. That’s a full 10 points below the national average of 77.3%.

Meanwhile, cases of the BA.2 subvariant of Omicron are rising, especially in Southeast Michigan according to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS). Amidst that rise, DHHS spokesperson Lynn Sutfin told the Michigan Advance that they continue to emphasize vaccines as an essential tool to prevent severe outcomes.

“Michigan submits vaccine breakthrough data from our state to CDC to help provide the scientific foundation for studies like the Kaiser Family Foundation study which help inform local and national priorities around interventions and public messaging,” she said.

“The Kaiser Family Foundation study supports the public health message that the safe and effective COVID-19 vaccine is our best defense against the virus. The vaccine protects against severe illness and death and helps prevent high numbers of hospitalizations that can overwhelm our health care systems. The Michigan Department of Health and Human Services continues to urge all Michiganders ages 5 and older to get vaccinated as soon as possible and boosted if eligible.”

The studies authors concur, stressing that COVID-19 vaccines continue to be highly effective against severe disease and death, even as new variants emerge.

“At the individual level, CDC estimates that in February and March of 2022 unvaccinated people were 10 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people vaccinated with at least a primary series, on an age-adjusted basis. Unvaccinated people were 20 times more likely to die from COVID-19 than people with a booster dose.”

Although the analysis focused on vaccine-preventable deaths, the authors say vaccines are not the only way to reduce one’s risk from COVID-19, noting that other precautions, such as wearing high-quality masks and being in well-ventilated spaces, can also reduce risk.

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