The availability of vaccines against COVID-19 saved an estimated 240,000 lives in the United States in the first half of last year alone, according to a new study. File photo by Debbie Hill/UPI | License Photo
Jan. 11 (UPI) -- The COVID-19 vaccines saved an estimated 240,000 lives and prevented 1.1 million hospitalizations in the United States during the first half of 2021 alone, a study published Tuesday by JAMA Network Open found.
This was at a time when less than half the population of the country was fully vaccinated against the virus, based on figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
"The U.S. COVID-19 vaccination program was associated with a reduction in the total hospitalizations and deaths by nearly half during the first six months of 2021," researchers from Yale University and the University of Maryland wrote.
"As new variants of ... continue to emerge, a renewed commitment to vaccine access, particularly among underserved groups and in counties with low vaccination coverage, will be crucial to preventing avoidable COVID-19 cases and bringing the pandemic to a close," they said.
A similar analysis published in August estimated that COVID-19 vaccines saved up to 140,000 lives in the United States.
A person is considered fully vaccinated two weeks after receiving the second dose of the Moderna or Pfizer-BioNTech two-shot products or the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, according to the CDC.
Through Friday, just over 61% of the population had been fully vaccinated, the agency said.
For this analysis, the researched developed computer models of virus spread, hospitalizations and deaths based on data from earlier in the pandemic.
They estimated the spread and impact of newer virus variants, including Delta, which until recently was the predominant one in the United States, based on the risk for serious illness among different demographic groups, they said.
Compared with a scenario in which vaccinates were not available, the fact that nearly half the population had received the shots through June 30 of last year prevented an estimated 241,000 deaths nationally, the researchers said.
In addition, an estimated 1.133 million people would have been hospitalized with COVID-19 had vaccines not been available, the data showed.
The vaccines also likely prevented a wave of virus cases, hospitalizations and deaths caused by the Alpha variant, which originated in England in September 2020, according to the researchers.
"[Vaccination] was also associated with decreased impact of the more transmissible and lethal Alpha variant that was circulating during the same period," the researchers wrote.