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FACTS: How many lives have vaccines saved?

How many lives do well known organisations think vaccines have saved? Precise numbers are impossible but our best guesses are in the 100s of millions.

Our World In Data:

We know that vaccines save lives. But how many lives vaccines have they saved?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) suggests that vaccination prevents 2-3 million deaths each year.2 However, while we are certain that vaccines have saved millions of lives, calculating a precise number is impossible. Also the quoted number from the WHO is in important ways a very low estimate.

The counterfactual world, in which vaccines would have never been developed, would be so different that an estimate of the impact of vaccines is impossible. One example that makes this clear is to consider the impact of the smallpox vaccine: Smallpox was once an extremely common and deadly infectious disease, but it has been eradicated globally back in 1977 thanks to the vaccination against the disease. It is impossible to know exactly how many people would die of smallpox today if scientists had not developed the vaccine. Reasonable estimates are in the range of around 5 million lives per year, which implies that between 1980 and 2018 around 150 to 200 million lives have been saved.3 This makes clear why it is so difficult to estimate the number of lives saved every year and why the WHO estimate is rather low.

Science Daily:

Nearly 200 million cases of polio, measles, mumps, rubella, varicella, adenovirus, rabies and hepatitis A — and approximately 450,000 deaths from these diseases — were prevented in the U.S. alone between 1963 and 2015 by vaccination, researchers estimate. The study is published in AIMS Public Health.

In 1963, vaccination against these infections became widespread, thanks to the development of a human cell strain that allowed vaccines to be produced safely. Globally, the vaccines developed from this strain and its derivatives prevented an estimated 4.5 billion cases of disease and saved more than 10 million lives.


7. In 1988, there were 350,000 cases of polio a year. Since then, over 2.5 billion children have been vaccinated against the disease. Today, the world is closer than ever to eradicating polio, with only 22 cases in two countries last year. More than 400 million children will be vaccinated this year.

8. The lives of an estimated 20 million children have been saved through measles immunization between 2000 and 2016.

10. As of 2016, an estimated 86 per cent of children less than one year of age were fully vaccinated against diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, compared to 52 per cent some 30 years ago.

12. Thanks to vaccines, maternal and neonatal tetanus, which is extremely deadly amongst newborns, has been eliminated in all but 15 countries. Ethiopia, Haiti and Philippines eliminated the disease in 2017.


Vaccines have been one of the biggest success stories of modern medicine. WHO estimates that at least 10 million deaths were prevented between 2010 and 2015 thanks to vaccinations delivered around the world. Many millions more lives were protected from the suffering and disability associated with diseases such as pneumonia, diarrhoea, whooping cough, measles, and polio. Successful immunization programmes also enable national priorities, like education and economic development, to take hold.

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