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New Research: Equitable Global mRNA COVID-19 Vaccine Access Could Save Over A Million Lives

WASHINGTON, D.C. – A new study released today by Public Citizen and researchers from Yale University, Stanford University, Brown University, and the University of Maryland estimates that reversing inequities in global COVID-19 vaccine access by providing two doses of mRNA vaccine to everyone in low and lower-middle-income countries (LIC/LMIC) tomorrow could avert 1.3 million deaths. Global vaccination would cost $35.5 billion, according to the analysis.

“Researchers previously have counted lives lost to the pandemic, and people everywhere know those losses intimately. Today, we are counting the lives we still can save,” said Peter Maybarduk, Director of the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen. “This will require a more ambitious effort than the Biden administration and other governments so far have offered; far more funding and leadership sharing and delivering medical technology. We can count in people’s lives the consequences of continuing to do the minimum, instead of what is needed.”

While almost 60% of the world has received at least one dose of COVID-19 vaccine, only 4% of the population of low-income countries had received a full primary vaccine series, compared to over 70% of the population of high-income nations at the time of analysis. The authors of the analysis used simple economic and epidemiologic models to estimate the potential benefits of scaling up vaccination programs in developing countries with the rise of the Omicron variant.

A range of scenarios was modeled. Producing and delivering two mRNA doses would cost $35.5 billion, or $26,900 per death averted. Scaling up vaccination to provide three doses of mRNA vaccine could save 1.5 million lives and cost $61.2 billion, at a cost of $40,800 per death averted. When applying an infection fatality rate similar to that seen in previous variants of COVID-19, the number of deaths averted rose to over 10 million, and the cost-per-death averted dropped below $10,000.

The analysis did not account for additional benefits of global vaccination, including strengthened economic recovery, fewer hospitalizations, and reduced risk of new emerging variants. The analysis also did not account for the period of time that would be required to scale vaccine production and delivery.

“This analysis shows that global vaccination can be undertaken for a fraction of the trillions of dollars already spent on the COVID-19 response,” said Alexandra Savinkina, a doctoral student at the Yale School of Public Health and lead author of the analysis. “It’s imperative that this is a global priority for 2022.”

“The model is a simple one, but meant to offer some high-level truths: we can save many lives at a reasonable cost compared to the value of a human life,” said Gregg Gonsalves, co-author of the study and Associate Professor of Epidemiology at the Yale School of Public Health. “We also did not include hospitalizations, the downstream economic costs of the pandemic in the model, so have underestimated the benefit we will gain by scaling up mRNA vaccination fully now.”

“We have more than one million reasons to vaccinate the world,” said Zain Rizvi, research director in the Access to Medicines Program at Public Citizen and co-author of the analysis. “The Biden administration can seize this historic opportunity to save lives, fuel the economic recovery, and protect Americans from the risk of new variants.”