COVID-19 vaccinations saved more than 1.4 million lives in Europe

Editorial Team

Editorial Team

April 11th, 2024

Editorial Team

‘Study says vaccines reduced the death toll from COVID-19 by 57% between December 2020 and March 2023’

Since their introduction in December 2020, COVID-19 vaccines have saved the lives of more than 1.4 million people in the WHO European Region. Most of those saved were aged 60 or older, the group at highest risk of severe illness and death from the SARS-CoV-2 virus. The first vaccine booster alone saved 700,000 lives.

These are among the findings of a new WHO/Europe study revealing that the known COVID-19 death toll in the Region, currently at 2.5 million, might have been as high as 4 million without the vaccines.

‘We have constantly stressed the importance of the COVID-19 vaccines, particularly for older people and the most vulnerable. This study documents the result of countries implementing that advice. The evidence is irrefutable,’ said Dr Hans Henri P. Kluge, WHO Regional Director for Europe.

Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Region, covering 53 Member States across Europe and central Asia, has seen more than 277 million confirmed cases and over 2.5 million recorded deaths.

‘Today, there are more than 1.4 million people in our Region – most of them elderly – enjoying life with their loved ones because they took the vital decision to be vaccinated against COVID-19. That’s nearly 1.5 million people who can play with their grandchildren, walk the dog, attend dance classes, volunteer and be active members of their communities,’ Dr Kluge said. ‘This is the power of vaccines.’

The report reveals a 57% reduction in mortality among those aged 70–79 and a 54% decrease in deaths among those aged 60–69. Mortality was 52% lower in the 50–59 age group. The over-80 age group benefited the most from vaccination, with a 62% reduction in mortality.

Among those aged 25 to 49, receiving a second vaccine dose resulted in a 48% reduction in mortality, though the uptake of vaccines for the second and third boosters was just 5% in this group. In other words, even in this group, without vaccination the number of deaths would have been almost double. 

Omicron wave

The WHO/Europe study reveals that COVID-19 vaccination saved most lives during the period when the Omicron variant was dominant, from December 2021 to April 2023.

In terms of impact on mortality in the Region as a whole, Israel saw the biggest benefits for all age groups with a 75% reduction, followed by Malta and Iceland with a 72% and 71% reduction, respectively.

Grandparents with grandchildren on their laps

Broken down by age group, those aged 80 and older once again saw the most significant benefits from COVID-19 vaccination, with a reduction in mortality of 70% in Malta and 71% in the United Kingdom.

Countries that implemented early vaccination programmes covering large parts of the population – such as Belgium, Denmark, Iceland, Ireland, Israel, Malta, the Netherlands and the United Kingdom – saw the greatest benefit in terms of the number of lives saved overall through vaccination.

Separately, there is mounting evidence that COVID-19 vaccination dramatically lowers the risk of long COVID. A Swedish study showed that vaccinated people were four times less likely to develop long-COVID than those who were not vaccinated.


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