An analysis carried out by Public Health England (PHE) suggests that COVID-19 vaccines have prevented thousands of deaths in England in the initial months of the vaccine programme. What do experts think about the analysis?

First published in March 2021.

The PHE analysis published by the government concludes: “By the end of February 2021, it is estimated that 5,900 deaths were averted in individuals aged 80 years and older and 200 in individuals aged 70to 79 years giving a total of 6,100 deaths averted in individuals aged 70 years or older.

“These findings provide further evidence that the COVID-19 vaccination programme is already having a significant impact on severe COVID-19 disease in England beyond the effect of the national lockdown.”


What the experts say.

“The unattributed PHE/Warwick paper released by Public Health England presents good news about vaccination against SARS-CoV-2 with an estimated 6,000 COVID-19 deaths prevented in January and February 2021.

But the paper is light on detail. In particular, how the weighting of ‘vaccine impact’ changed over time because the mix of vaccine-types changed; and whether impact was differentiated by whether the 2nd Pfizer/BioNTech dose was delivered on the 1/22 days randomized-trial schedule.

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“The 1/22 schedule applied was half of roughly 650,000 80+ year olds in England (but not Scotland) who received their 1st Pfizer/BioNTech dose before 4 January 2021 [England’s Serendipity Cohort] and for one-quarter of around 440,000 others, mainly health or social care workers.”

  • Dr Julian Tang, Honorary Associate Professor/Clinical Virologist, University of Leicester:

“The fact that the COVID-19 vaccines reduce deaths in those vaccinated is not surprising – but the size of the effect (4 million doses given over 3 months Dec-Feb to save 6,100 lives), seems relatively small compared to the impact of earlier interventions and lockdowns over a similar 3-month (Mar-May 2020) period during the earlier part of the pandemic – to reduce the spread of  the virus in the first place.

“A UK modelling study showed that at least 21,000 lives could have been prevented with lockdown one week earlier:

“And a US modelling study showed a similar effect – of earlier interventions to reduce the spread of the virus:

“Particularly in the week in which we are remembering the date of the first UK national lockdown and all the lives lost to COVID-19, we should not forget the reasons why they are not still with us to benefit from the success of the current vaccine rollout.” 

Going further

PMP News reporting

[This piece was first published in PMP Magazine on 25 March 2021. | The author writes in a personal capacity.]

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