People not having all their recommended doses of the Covid vaccine led to thousands of unnecessary deaths and severe outcomes, researchers have found.

Over 7,000 hospitalisations and deaths might have been avoided in summer 2022 if there had been ‘full’ Covid-19 vaccination coverage across the UK, according to a new study.

Using health record data from participants over four years old, researchers found that between a third and a half of the populations of the four UK nations had not received the recommended number of Covid-19 vaccinations by summer 2022.

Over the period between the start of June and the end of September, they used a ‘counterfactual scenario’ in which everyone in the UK was fully vaccinated in order to estimate the potential reduction in ‘severe Covid-19 outcomes’.

The study concluded that there would have been 7,180 fewer hospitalisations or deaths across all age groups, down from the 40,393 that actually took place, indicating that ‘higher vaccination coverage would have been associated with considerable reduction in severe Covid-19 outcomes’.

Among the ‘undervaccinated’, the researchers estimated there would have been a 50% reduction in these events.

They also found that younger, more deprived or non-white people, or those with a lower number of comorbidities, were less likely to be fully vaccinated.

The study, published in The Lancet earlier this month, defined ‘undervaccination’ as having received fewer than the recommended number of vaccine doses.

Rates of ‘undervaccination’ against Covid-19 across the UK as of 1 June 2022:

  • England – 45.8% (26,985,570 of 58,967,360)
  • Northern Ireland – 49.8% (938,420 of 1,885,670)
  • Scotland – 34.2% (1,709,786 of 4,992,498)
  • Wales – 32.8% (773,850 of 2,358,740)

‘The effect of being undervaccinated on severe Covid-19 outcomes was notably larger than the effect of ethnicity or socioeconomic status,’ the researchers concluded.

They also said health policy and public health interventions need to be formulated with the aim of improving coverage among the ‘undervaccinated’ demographics.

‘This could, for example, include the need to tackle vaccine misinformation in a more direct fashion, and to continue to diversify the use of champions to support public messaging and the range of community-based centres offering vaccinations,’ the study said.

Dr Andrew Freedman, consultant in infectious diseases and vaccine clinical trials at Cardiff University School of Medicine, said the study ‘clearly demonstrates how effective Covid vaccines were at reducing the risk of severe outcomes’ from the disease during summer 2022.

He said: ‘As the authors point out, these findings will help identify which groups should in future be specifically targeted to maximise uptake of vaccines for Covid and other infections. This will be particularly crucial in the event of another pandemic.’

Dr Freedman also noted that the study’s inclusion of data from the whole UK population – the first of its kind – is a ‘remarkable achievement’.

The UK Health Security Agency recently found that there is a continued need for Covid boosters since protection wanes after six months.

In its long-awaited national vaccination strategy, published in December, NHS England revealed that vaccinations will become part of a ‘one-stop shop’ which will be delivered alongside blood pressure tests and other health checks.

This article was first published by our sister title Pulse