The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in early August that 49.7% of Americans are now fully vaccinated against the coronavirus, with another 57.8% having received at least one dose. But despite the fact that President Biden’s goal to get at least one shot into 70% of adults in the United States by July 4 fell significantly short—that number finally hit in early August—the number of deaths prevented by the COVID vaccine number in the hundreds of thousands.
A recent study led by the Yale School of Public Health found that the vaccines have saved approximately 279,000 lives and prevented 1.25 million hospitalizations since the coordinated vaccination campaign launched in the United States in late 2020.
The research team compared vaccination rates to the pandemic’s trajectory from Oct. 1, 2020, through July 1, 2021. In doing so, it also accounted for the emergence of contagious variants that have surfaced and spread in recent months.
The team then modeled two hypothetical scenarios to compare health trends. One scenario examined data in which no vaccination program was administered, while the other examined what would happen if only half as many vaccinations were distributed.
In the latter scenario, the researchers estimate that there would have been 120,000 additional deaths and 450,000 hospitalizations.
However, the researchers warned back on July 8 that the highly transmissible delta variant had the potential to unleash a surge of new cases among millions of people who remain unvaccinated. Just weeks later, former U.S. Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams presented a stark warning, as cases continued to surge due to the delta variant.
“More mitigation is coming. Whether it’s masking or whether it’s closures or whether it’s your kids having to return to virtual learning, that is coming,” Adams told CBS’ Face the Nation on July 25. “And it’s coming because this pandemic is spiraling out of control yet again. And it’s spiraling out of control because we don’t have enough people vaccinated.”
Adams’ thoughts echoed those from Dr. Alison Galvani, the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis at Yale School of Public Health who led the study.
“The vaccines have been strikingly successful in reducing the spread of the virus and saving hundreds of thousands of lives in the United States alone,” said Galvani. “Yet until a greater majority of Americans are vaccinated, many more people could still die from this virus. The danger is not over. Now is not the time to let down our guard.”
If more Americans continue to go unvaccinated, a recent forecast from the COVID-19 Scenario Modeling Hub projects that the delta variant will be responsible for an estimated 60,000 additional COVID-19 deaths by October 2021. Most of those deaths, of course, could be prevented by a COVID vaccine.
The hub also predicts that the U.S. will see a fourth wave of COVID-19 cases estimated to peak in mid-October.
“What’s going on in the country with the virus is matching our most pessimistic scenarios,” said Justin Lessler, an epidemiologist at the University of North Carolina who is involved with running the modeling hub. “We might be seeing synergistic effects of people becoming less cautious in addition to the impacts of the delta variant.”
The hub’s worst-case scenario predicts 240,0000 daily cases and 4,000 deaths during the wave’s peak. That would rival the highest levels during the winter of 2020.
“I think it’s a big call for caution,” Lessler warned.
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