Vaccines linked to preventing over a quarter-million COVID-19 cases, 39,000 deaths among seniors: HHS study

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) announced Tuesday that a new agency report showed COVID-19 vaccinations may have helped to prevent more than a quarter-million coronavirus cases and tens of thousands of deaths among seniors.

In a release detailing the report’s conclusions, HHS said the study – conducted by researchers with HHS’s Office of the Assistant Secretary for Planning and Evaluation (ASPE) – found that vaccinations were linked to a reduction of approximately 265,000 COVID-19 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations and 39,000 deaths among nearly 63 million Medicare beneficiaries between January and May 2021.

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“This report reaffirms what we hear routinely from states: COVID-19 vaccines save lives, prevent hospitalizations and reduce infection,” HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra said in a statement.

Using a combination of data from the person-level Medicare fee-for-service (FFS) claims and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) on county-level vaccination rates, the researchers compared the rates of the outcomes to what their model predicted would have happened without any vaccinations. 

“Comparing the rates of these outcomes to what our model predicts would have happened without any vaccinations, we estimate COVID-19 vaccinations were linked to estimated reductions of approximately 107,000 infections, 43,000 hospitalizations, and 16,000 deaths in our study sample of 25.3 million beneficiaries,” the study authors said. “These estimates correspond to estimated reductions of approximately 265,000 infections, 107,000 hospitalizations, and 39,000 deaths for the full Medicare population of 62.7 million people.”

Forty-eight states – excluding Texas and Hawaii, which did not provide county-level estimates of vaccinations in the CDC data – were included in the sample and the report said the difference in vaccination rates for those age 65 and older between the lowest and highest counties and states by the end of May “highlights the continued opportunity to leverage COVID-19 vaccinations to prevent COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths.”

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“Today’s report reflects the devastating effect COVID-19 has had on our vulnerable seniors and demonstrates that efforts to prioritize and vaccinate this group directly correlate to saving lives,” HHS wrote. “More than 352,000 lives were lost during the first nine months of the COVID-19 pandemic. Prior to the availability of vaccines, nearly 80% of these deaths were among people 65 and older who were also Medicare eligible.”

HHS noted that all racial and ethnic groups and all 48 states experienced reduced numbers of COVID-19 deaths, hospitalizations and infections linked to vaccination rate increases, with American Indian and Alaska Native Medicare beneficiaries seeing the largest vaccination-related percentage decrease in SARS-CoV-2 infections, hospitalizations and deaths. 

The study found that vaccines were linked to a reduction of about 5,600 deaths among nursing home Medicare beneficiaries.

“For the period of January to May 2021, when vaccination grew from 1% to 47% among adults 18 to 64 and from 1% to 80% among seniors, the study found an 11-12% decrease in weekly COVID-19 hospitalizations and deaths among Medicare beneficiaries for every 10% increase in county vaccination rates,” HHS said.

The agency wrote that the report found that high vaccination rates for all adults were even more protective for Medicare beneficiaries than just a high elderly vaccination rate on its own.

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HHS said these findings further underscore the importance of vaccination for all eligible individuals in the U.S. 

According to CDC data, more than 185 million Americans are now fully vaccinated. 


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