As the United States mourns one million deaths from COVID-19, a new study indicates the grim tally could have been worse. Use of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine prevented more than 110,000 deaths and 690,000 hospitalizations in the United States in 2021, researchers report.

The vaccine also prevented 8.7 million symptomatic cases of infection and saved more than $30 billion in health care costs and more than $40 billion in lost productivity, the study authors noted.

“The analyses show that the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine contributed substantial public health impact in the U.S. in 2021, and had a deep effect on the trajectory of the pandemic,” said Manuela Di Fusco, of Pfizer’s health economics and outcomes research team.

The Pfizer vaccine was the first COVID-19 shot available in the United States. It was given to nearly six in 10 people nationwide who were fully vaccinated in 2021, according to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The findings were published online May 15 in the Journal of Medical Economics. All of the study authors received funding from Pfizer either as employees, consultants or employees of firms paid by Pfizer.

Despite the use of COVID-19 vaccines, the U.S. death toll during the pandemic neared one million last week.

President Joe Biden ordered U.S. flags flown at half-staff Thursday.

“We must remain vigilant against this pandemic and do everything we can to save as many lives as possible,” Biden said.

In this study, researchers estimated the impact of the Pfizer vaccine using a model, real-world data and clinical trial data.

The model used data on the number of people vaccinated, the effectiveness of the vaccine in various age groups, and the chances of being infected, developing symptoms and being hospitalized.

It also included the effects of long COVID, the number of working days likely lost due to short-term illness and the economic impact of premature deaths from the disease.

The model did not include the impact of the more transmissible Omicron variant that became the dominant coronavirus strain at the end of the study period.

The vaccine “was estimated to prevent millions of COVID-19 symptomatic cases, thousands of hospitalizations and deaths, and generated billions in societal economic value in the U.S. in 2021,” Di Fusco said in a journal news release.

The findings “highlight the opportunity to continue widespread vaccination uptake to prevent COVID-19-related disease and generate societal benefits,” she added.

A number of limitations could have resulted in the numbers in the study being underestimates, according to Di Fusco and colleagues. These include not factoring in the vaccine’s potential to reduce transmission of the coronavirus, the severity of cases and the overall impact of long COVID .

The researchers also noted that their findings can’t be applied to other COVID-19 vaccines or groups of people not specifically analyzed in the study.

More information

There’s more on COVID-19 vaccines at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

SOURCE: Journal of Medical Economics, news release, May 16, 2022

Source: HealthDay

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