From Brown School of Public Health and Microsoft AI for Health

New Analysis Shows Vaccines Could Have Prevented 318,000 Deaths

National and State-by-State Data

West Virginia, Wyoming, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma lead the list of states where the most lives could have been saved by vaccines.

D.C., Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Vermont and Hawaii show the lowest numbers of vaccine-preventable deaths.

PROVIDENCE, May 13, 2022 – A new analysis by researchers at Brown School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, and Microsoft AI for Health shows that vaccines could have prevented at least 318,000 Covid-19 deaths between January 2021 and April 2022. This means that at least every second person who died from Covid-19 since vaccines became available might have been saved by getting the shot.

A new dashboard provides critical insights for federal and state COVID-19 response teams.

“At a time when many in the U.S. have given up on vaccinations, these numbers are a stark reminder of the effectiveness of vaccines in fighting this pandemic”, said Stefanie Friedhoff, associate professor of the practice in Health Services, Policy and Practice at the Brown University School of Public Health, and a co-author of the analysis. “We must continue to invest in getting more Americans vaccinated and boosted to save more lives.”

“This compelling data illustrates the trajectory of 50 states with 50 different fates during the COVID-19 pandemic, emphasizing the important role of vaccines in protecting lives in each state”, said Thomas Tsai, a surgeon at Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Assistant Professor in Health Policy and Management at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

“Having access to data enables us to answer key questions that can help policymakers and the general public make the best decisions around public health,” says Juan Lavista Ferres, chief data scientist and lab director, Microsoft AI for Good Research Lab. “Microsoft’s U.S. Vaccine Preventable Deaths Analysis, in collaboration with Brown University School of Public Health, is an example of how data can be leveraged to provide comprehensive perspectives to ensure proper scenario planning ahead of future pandemics.”

How the dashboard works

  • The new dashboard models vaccine-preventable deaths based on real-world data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and the New York Times. Using observed weekly numbers of infections, deaths and vaccinations for each state, the dashboard displays an alternative scenario: What if the pace of vaccinations at the point of highest demand last spring for each state was sustained, until vaccination coverage reached 85, 90, or 100 percent of the adult population?

  • In Maine for example, the vaccination effort peaked on April 11, 2021, which means that supply was available but demand started to plateau and then slow. The dashboard calculates what would have happened if people in Maine had continued to be vaccinated at that peak rate, until vaccination coverage reached 85, 90 or 100 percent. It compares such consistent demand for vaccines to how many deaths in unvaccinated and undervaccinated people actually did occur in Maine, to calculate how many of those lives could have been saved by vaccines.

  • Recognizing that the effectiveness of Covid-19 vaccines changes with time and as new variants begin to dominate infections, the dashboard leverages observed weekly vaccine effectiveness rates based on CDC data. This allows the dashboard to expand on prior calculations of vaccine preventable deaths that had to rely on more general effectiveness assumptions.

  • By basing the estimates on the peak vaccination rate for each state, the analysis takes vaccine supply into account – for example, Kansas is measured by the peak vaccination rate Kansas achieved in spring 2021. There is also a second scenario available on the dashboard that calculates how many lives could have been saved if a state had vaccinated at the highest peak rate across all states – as if Kansas had been able to vaccinate at the peak rate of Maine.

The dashboard is based on data for adults 18 years and older, from January 1, 2021 through April 30, 2022. Going forward, data will be updated monthly.

Key points

  • Nationally, if states had continued to vaccinate at their internal peak rate to 100% coverage, 318,981 Covid-19 deaths could have been prevented. If all states had vaccinated at the highest peak rate across all states, 338,961 Covid-19 deaths could have been prevented. Over 1 in 2 deaths due to COVID could have been prevented had vaccine demand been sustained throughout 2021 and 2022.

  • While the national average shows that 50% of deaths were preventable, there is quite a large variance among states – ranging from 25% to 74% vaccine preventable deaths.

  • West Virginia, Wyoming, Tennessee, Kentucky and Oklahoma lead the list of states where the most lives could have been saved by vaccines.

  • D.C., Massachusetts, Puerto Rico, Vermont, and Hawaii show the lowest numbers of vaccine-preventable deaths.

  • Displaying vaccine preventable deaths at this granular level allows a closer look at state vaccination performance. For example, California, Florida and Texas – all of which are large, populous states – have similarly high overall Covid-19 death rates. But Texas and Florida have about twice as many vaccine-preventable deaths compared to California.

  • Unsurprisingly, there is a correlation between states that continue to see lower vaccine uptake and states that have a larger share of vaccine preventable deaths.

How the dashboard can aid state-level vaccination efforts

“This dashboard has the opportunity to serve as a resource for states to build trust with their residents and close the gap in vaccinations which can result in fewer preventable deaths,” said Dr. Tsai. “These alternate scenarios of vaccination trajectories in the past year should motivate the realities of the present—by ensuring access to vaccinations and boosters, we have the opportunity to prevent further deaths.”

“In a world with dramatically increased capacities to develop, manufacture and distribute vaccines, pandemic resilience will increasingly depend on the ability of governments, experts, institutions and community leaders to generate vaccine demand,” said professor Friedhoff, who works with community organizations on increasing access to and trust in vaccines as part of the Rockefeller Foundation’s Equity-First Vaccination Initiative. “A key step to increase uptake of vaccines is to avoid blaming people and instead listen, build relationships, combat misinformation, and empower people to find their own way to shots that can protect their health.”

Regardless of political affiliation or race, a key feature of Americans who remain unvaccinated or undervaccinated is that they have lost trust, Friedhoff said. “We find concerns about Covid-19 vaccines among people of all races and ethnicities, faith groups, education and income levels, political leanings and affinity groups — and while their concerns are different, one thing they all have in common is that they have lost trust in government and public health authorities. Unvaccinated Americans often no longer have any trusted messengers left. So what we need to do is start rebuilding an infrastructure of trust. That requires investment in people and programs, adjustments in policies and regulations, and a commitment to increasing health equity and meeting the information needs of all Americans.”

“This vaccine dashboard plays a key role in informing Americans by showing not just where we are in the pandemic, but more importantly, where we could – and should – be with a renewed focus on exiting this pandemic through vaccinations,” said Dr. Tsai.