Current COVID-19 vaccine program has saved nearly 300K lives, researchers estimate

A recent study from the Yale School of Public Health and the Commonwealth Fund published on Wednesday estimates that rapid rollout of COVID-19 vaccines prevented nearly 300,000 additional deaths. 

Researchers say without the current vaccination program in place, by the end of June 2021 there would have been an additional 1.25 million hospitalizations. 

"If the U.S. had achieved only half the actual pace of vaccination, there would have been nearly 121,000 additional deaths and more than 450,000 additional hospitalizations," study authors wrote. 

RELATED: Global COVID-19 death toll passes 4 million people

No vaccination program would have resulted in nearly 4,500 deaths per day during the second 2021 spring surge of the virus, researchers say. 

Despite vaccines preventing further deaths, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic has already caused an estimated loss of nearly 5.5 million years of life in the U.S. in 2020 alone, according to a report from the Pew Research Center published last month. 

Pew researchers say that COVID-19 contributed to more lost years of life for Americans than all accidental deaths combined in a typical year. 

On Wednesday, the global death toll from the novel coronavirus surpassed a staggering 4 million, according to data from Johns Hopkins University. 

RELATED: Americans lost 5.5 million collective years of life to COVID-19, Pew says

The sobering milestone comes as some nations begin to ease COVID-19 restrictions and medical experts sound the alarm of rising deadly variants of the disease.

Experts say the delta variant spreads more easily because of mutations that make it better at latching onto cells in our bodies. In the United Kingdom, the variant is now responsible for 90% of all new infections, The Associated Press reported on June 24.

Meanwhile, Pfizer is about to seek U.S. authorization for a third dose of its COVID-19 vaccine, saying Thursday that another shot within 12 months could dramatically boost immunity and maybe help ward off the latest worrisome coronavirus mutant.

RELATED: Pfizer booster shot: COVID-19 vaccine maker to seek approval for 3rd dose

Research from multiple countries shows the Pfizer shot and other widely used COVID-19 vaccines offer strong protection against the highly contagious delta variant, which is spreading rapidly around the world and now accounts for most new U.S. infections.

Currently, only about 48% of the U.S. population is fully vaccinated — and some parts of the country have far lower immunization rates, places where the delta variant is surging. On Thursday, Dr. Rochelle Walensky, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said that’s leading to "two truths" — highly immunized swaths of America are getting back to normal while hospitalizations are rising in other places.

"This rapid rise is troubling," she said: A few weeks ago the delta variant accounted for just over a quarter of new U.S. cases, but it now accounts for just over 50% — and in some places, such as parts of the Midwest, as much as 80%.

In the U.S., case rates have been rising for weeks and the rate of hospitalizations has started to tick up, rising 7% from the previous seven-day average, Walensky told reporters Thursday. However, deaths remain down on average, which some experts believe is at least partly due to high vaccination rates in people 65 and older — who are among the most susceptible to severe disease.

This story was reported from Los Angeles. The Associated Press contributed.