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COVID-19 vaccines prevented more than 2.2 million US deaths, study says

Where would we be without these shots? A study says the already tragic pandemic would be a lot worse.Toru Hanai/Bloomberg

How much worse could the US COVID-19 pandemic have been if vaccinations hadn’t arrived in the nick of time in December 2020?

Unimaginably worse, according to a study released last week. The researchers estimated that vaccinations by the end of last month had averted more than 2.2 million deaths, more than 17 million hospitalizations, and more than 66 million infections.

“Our findings highlight the profound and ongoing impact of the vaccination program in reducing infections, hospitalizations, and deaths,” said the study released Friday by the Commonwealth Fund, a venerable nonprofit that focuses on improving health care, particularly for society’s most vulnerable.


“Redoubling efforts to increase vaccine uptake, especially among the elderly and other vulnerable groups, will be critical to avert outbreaks as pandemic restrictions are lifted. With continued spread of the BA.2 subvariant, our findings point to the tremendous power of vaccination to reduce disease burden from COVID-19. This may be even more important if newer variants arise or population immunity ebbs,” the study said.

The researchers included experts from the foundation; Yale University; York University in Canada; and the nonprofit National Committee for Quality Assurance.

Even with the vaccination campaign, the United States, a little more than two years after the pandemic began, is nearing 1 million total deaths from COVID-19.

Researchers also found that around $900 million in health care costs had been averted by vaccinations.

“As Congress considers the costs and benefits of extending COVID-19 vaccination, our results show that continuing to vaccinate and boost Americans can produce substantial health benefits and financial returns to the country,” the researchers said.

The researchers said they were updating previous estimates to encompass the impact of the wave of the highly transmissible Omicron variant that raced through the country this winter.

The researchers said they used a model that factored in “the characteristics of the coronavirus variants, their transmission, and outcomes to compare the observed pandemic trajectory... to a counterfactual scenario in which no vaccination program existed.”


Dr. Tom Frieden, former director of the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, reacted Saturday to the foundation report in a tweet, saying, “Horrible as the toll of COVID has been, it could have been 3 times worse.”

“We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again: VACCINES. SAVE. LIVES,” the Yale School of Public Health said Thursday in a tweet.

Martin Finucane can be reached at