COVID-19 vaccines may have saved the lives of 39,000 seniors in US: HHS study

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COVID-19 vaccines may have saved the lives of tens of thousands seniors nationwide early this year, according to estimates from a Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) report released Tuesday.

The study suggests that COVID-19 vaccinations may have prevented about 265,000 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations and 39,000 fatalities among Medicare recipients in the first five months of 2021. Researchers specifically found the vaccines may have stopped 5,600 deaths among nursing home Medicare beneficiaries – a population hit hard by the pandemic prior to vaccines.

The HHS report signals the effectiveness of the vaccines in potentially averting senior deaths after the majority of fatalities before shots occurred among people aged 65 and older who were eligible for Medicare.

The report backs up the Biden administration’s push to vaccinate the country and prioritize older populations, showing these doses “save lives, prevent hospitalizations, and reduce infection,” HHS Secretary Xavier BecerraXavier BecerraFDA authorizes new rapid COVID-19 test, says capacity will double Biden administration reverses Trump abortion referral ban for family planning clinics Biden administration announces rule on implementing ban on ‘surprise’ medical billing MORE said.

Researchers from HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) used a population of 25.3 million Medicare recipients to study a model of what could have happened between January and May this year without vaccines. 

The vaccination rate among seniors climbed from 1 percent to 80 percent over that five-month period.  Weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths among Medicare recipients decreased by 11 to 12 percent for every 10 percent increase in county vaccination rates. 

All racial and ethnic groups, as well as the 48 states included in the study, estimated a decrease in cases, hospitalizations and deaths associated with jumps in the vaccination rate. Texas and Hawaii were excluded from the analysis because of “data reporting limitations.”

American Indian and Alaska Native Medicare recipients experienced “the largest vaccination-related percentage decrease” in cases, hospital admissions and fatalities. 

The study estimated that Oklahoma and North Dakota experienced the highest reduction in deaths per population.

In the first nine months of the pandemic, more than 352,000 people died, with 80 percent of those deaths among those 65 and older who were eligible for Medicare. But the death toll has continued to climb in the months since, surpassing 700,000 in recent days — with the vast majority being unvaccinated, according to officials.

The Biden administration has advocated for vaccines across the country, especially for seniors. Last month, the Food and Drug Administration adjusted its rule on who can get a booster Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine, extending the eligibility to all Pfizer recipients older than 65, as well as those with certain pre-existing conditions and occupations.

In August, U.S. regulators also authorized immunocompromised adults who received Pfizer or Moderna to get an additional third shot to help boost their immune systems against COVID-19.