About 20 million lives around the world were saved thanks to Covid-19 vaccines in the first year of the inoculation programme, according to new estimates.
The first Covid shot outside a clinical trial was administered in the UK to Maggie Keenan, 90, on December 8, 2020. She was given a Pfizer/BioNTech dose.
Experts set out to gauge the impact in the year after she received her vaccine by assessing information across 185 countries.
Researchers, led by academics at Imperial College London, concluded that more deaths were prevented in wealthy countries — with an estimated 12.2 million lives saved in high and upper-middle income countries.
It is estimated that at least 66 per cent of the world's population has received at least one shot.
Overall, 19.8 million deaths were prevented in the first year after vaccines were introduced, the new research suggests.
The paper, published in the journal Lancet Infectious Diseases, also suggests that a further 600,000 deaths could have been prevented if the World Health Organisation's target of vaccinating 40 per cent of the population in every country by the end of 2021 had been met.
“Covid-19 vaccination has substantially altered the course of the pandemic, saving tens of millions of lives globally,” the authors wrote.
“However, inadequate access to vaccines in low-income countries has limited the impact in these settings, reinforcing the need for global vaccine equity and coverage.”
Researchers used data and estimates on vaccination rates, Covid-19 deaths and excess death records.
Experts from Johns Hopkins University in Baltimore, in the US, have estimated that about 6.3 million people have died from Covid-19 around the world.
The university's Covid tracker suggests that there have been more than 540 million cases of the virus globally.
Meanwhile, some 11.6 billion shots have been delivered.
“Our findings offer the most complete assessment to date of the remarkable global impact that vaccination has had on the Covid-19 pandemic,” Dr Oliver Watson, lead author of the study from Imperial College London, said.
“Of the almost 20 million deaths estimated to have been prevented in the first year after vaccines were introduced, almost 7.5 million deaths were prevented in countries covered by the Covid-19 Vaccine Access initiative (Covax).
“This initiative was set up because it was clear early on that global vaccine equity would be the only way out of the pandemic.
“Our findings show that millions of lives have likely been saved by making vaccines available to people everywhere, regardless of their wealth.
“However, more could have been done. If the targets set out by the WHO had been achieved, we estimate that roughly one in five of the estimated lives lost due to Covid-19 in low-income countries could have been prevented.”
Steve Russell, head of the vaccination programme for the UK's National Health Service said: “The world watched as the NHS delivered the first covid-19 vaccine outside of clinical trials to Maggie Keenan in December 2020, shortly followed by the first AstraZeneca vaccine just a month later.
“It is now fantastic to see the impact of the speed and precision of the NHS covid-19 vaccination rollout, how it contributed to saving hundreds of thousands of lives across the country but also paved the way for the rest of the world to follow our lead.”