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Research reveals if the COVID-19 vaccine and social distancing actually saved lives

The researchers collected exposure and vaccination data from over four years to understand the true impact of behavioral changes and vaccination.

Research reveals if the COVID-19 vaccine and social distancing actually saved lives
Representative Cover Image Source: Pexels | August de Richelieu

In the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic, social distancing changed people's lives in many ways. However, it is crucial to assess whether these rules and the COVID-19 vaccine helped to save lives. A study conducted by CU Boulder and UCLA research revealed that vaccines and social distancing have helped save about 800,000 people. The blood test data on disease exposure and vaccination revealed that 1.98 million people would have died instead of 1.18 million people in the United States. However, the effectiveness of the impromptu efforts was quite surprising, as per the study's co-authors. "We stumbled through it without a plan. We were flying blind," study co-author Andrew Atkeson of UCLA shared in an interview.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Cottonbro Studio
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Cottonbro Studio

"As an epidemiologist at the beginning of the pandemic, I certainly did not think that we could have kept it up for as long as we needed to avert as many deaths as we did," co-author Stephen Kissler of the University of Colorado-Boulder, expressed, per CU Boulder Today. Nonetheless, the researchers bring home the point that we need a much better infrastructure to control future outbreaks more efficiently. Improved medical infrastructure should offer faster diagnostic testing and contact tracing within days, Kissler said in an interview. It would help health professionals track the way the disease is spreading. The researcher states that such data collection should be ongoing to give medical professionals a baseline to compare new data for future pandemics.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Kaique Rocha
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Kaique Rocha

The authors believe that alongside developing vaccines, there is a pressing need to develop data infrastructure to make disease prevention efforts more precise. It would help control the side effects of mitigation measures on other aspects like economic and social. The researchers feel that if another pandemic were to happen, people would be less willing to stay home. "My concern is that the next pandemic will be deadlier, but people will ignore it because they will say, 'Oh, we overdid it during COVID,'" Atkeson said per the outlet.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Anna Shvets
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Anna Shvets

Kissler and Atkeson explained that without the slowdown brought about by behavioral changes in 2020, a vast majority of the US population would have been infected by the first half of 2021. However, without a vaccine, no one could have prevented the spread of the disease. "Without vaccines, behavior alone would have postponed infections, but in the end, nearly everyone would have been infected and subject to a high infection fatality rate from that first infection," they stated. "Without a behavioral response, vaccines would have come too late to save lives." The combination of vaccines and social distancing was quite effective in saving lives. Also, about 273,000 deaths caused by vaccine hesitancy and delayed deployment of vaccines in the second half of 2021 could have been prevented.

Representative Image Source: Pexels | Anna Shvets
Representative Image Source: Pexels | Anna Shvets

CDC Center for Forecasting and Outbreak Analytics is already developing a system similar to the National Weather Service to provide accurate forecasts on the country's epidemiological conditions, per the outlet. "I think that had we been able to learn more about the virus more quickly, we might've been able to open schools a little bit more rapidly," Kissler voiced out, per CPR News. "We might've even been able to open them in ways that were also safer by using tests more widely, by doing all the sorts of things that we've talked about over the last couple of years that we made efforts to do, but maybe didn't accomplish to the extent that we would've wanted to," he added.

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