Most countries initially deployed COVID-19 vaccines preferentially in elderly populations. We aimed to evaluate whether population-level vaccine effectiveness is heralded by an increase in the relative proportion of deaths among non-elderly populations that were less covered by vaccination programs.
We collected data from 40 countries on age-stratified COVID-19 deaths during the vaccination period (1/14/2021-5/31/2021) and two control periods (entire pre-vaccination period and excluding the first wave).
We meta-analyzed the proportion of deaths in different age groups in vaccination versus control periods in countries with low vaccination rates; (2) countries with age-independent vaccination policies; and (3) countries with standard age-dependent vaccination policies.
Countries that prioritized vaccination among older people saw an increasing share of deaths among 0-69 year old people in the vaccination versus the two control periods (summary proportion ratio 1.32 [95 CI% 1.24-1.41] and 1.35 [95 CI% 1.26-1.44)]. No such change was seen on average in countries with age-independent vaccination policies (1.05 [95 CI% 0.78-1.41 and 0.97 [95 CI% 0.95-1.00], respectively) and limited vaccination (0.93 [95 CI% 0.85-1.01] and 0.95 [95 CI% 0.87-1.03], respectively). Proportion ratios were associated with the difference of vaccination rates in elderly versus non-elderly people. No significant changes occurred in the share of deaths in age 0-49 among all 0-69 deaths in the vaccination versus pre-vaccination periods.
The substantial shift in the age distribution of COVID-19 deaths in countries that rapidly implemented vaccination predominantly among elderly provides evidence for the population level-effectiveness of COVID-19 vaccination and a favorable evolution of the pandemic towards endemicity with fewer elderly deaths.
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