Covid-19 vaccines might have prevented over 4.2 million potential deaths in India in the year 2021, a period when the country was faced with the devastating impact of the Delta variant, a study published in The Lancet Infectious Diseases journal shows. The number of lives saved in the year is based on the estimates that about 51.6 lakh deaths may have occurred in the country throughout the pandemic even though the official government figures are quite low (over 5.2 lakh).

The data on potential lives (over 4.2 million) saved due to Covid-19 vaccines in India shows the impact of the Centre's vaccination programmes, Oliver Watson from the Imperial College London, the U.K., the lead author of the study, told a news agency.

The study found that vaccinations prevented 14·4 million deaths from Covid-19 in 185 countries and territories across the world between December 8, 2020, and December 8, 2021. "This estimate rose to 19·8 million deaths from Covid-19 averted when we used excess deaths as an estimate of the true extent of the pandemic, representing a global reduction of 63% in total deaths (19·8 million of 31·4 million) during the first year of COVID-19 vaccination," shows the study.

In COVAX Advance Market Commitment countries, 41% of excess mortality (7·4 million of 17·9 million deaths) was averted. On the other hand, in low-income countries, an additional 45% of deaths could have been averted had the 20% vaccination coverage target set by COVAX been met by each country. Besides, an additional 111% of deaths could have been averted had the 40% target set by the WHO been met by each country by the end of 2021.

"Covid-19 vaccination has substantially altered the course of the pandemic, saving tens of millions of lives globally. 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," finds the study.

The first Covid-19 vaccine outside a clinical trial setting was administered on Dec 8, 2020. To ensure global vaccine equity, vaccine targets were set by the COVID-19 Vaccines Global Access (COVAX) Facility and the World Health Organisation (WHO). However, due to vaccine shortfalls, these targets were not achieved by the end of 2021. "We aimed to quantify the global impact of the first year of COVID-19 vaccination programmes," say researchers.

Researchers, however, say these estimates should be considered in light of the "considerable uncertainty" inherent in estimating vaccine impact. "Uncertainty in the true death toll of the pandemic, the circulating variants of concern and their immunological phenotypes, and the vaccines themselves administered in many countries vastly complicate efforts to derive accurate estimates of the impact of COVID-19 vaccines," it says, adding the results of this analysis still provide a thorough assessment of the vaccine impact.

"Despite this, more lives could have been saved if vaccines had been distributed more rapidly to many parts of the world and if vaccine uptake could have been strengthened worldwide," says the study.

The researchers have called for vaccine intellectual property needs to be shared more quickly in the future, with more open technology and knowledge transfer surrounding vaccine production and allocation. Vaccine distribution and delivery infrastructure also needs to be scaled up worldwide and misinformation combatted to improve vaccine demand, they add.

Notably, the WHO in its report on May 5, 2022, also said that the world witnessed 1.4 crore Covid-19 excess deaths between January 1, 2020, and December 31, 2021. Around less than half of them, 47 lakh excess deaths, happened in India, claims the report. The Centre, however, questioned the validity and robustness of these claims, saying it "strongly objects" to the use of mathematical models for projecting excess mortality estimates in view of the availability of authentic data.

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