With COVID-19 cases again on the rise in many US states and around the world, a new Indiana University study reveals the number of deaths averted by the early months of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout. IUPUI, IU, and RAND Corporation researchers found that 139,393 deaths were prevented during the first five months of vaccination efforts in the United States. Using state-level data, the researchers created models to estimate the number of COVID-19 deaths for those 16 and older that would have occurred in the absence of vaccinations between Dec. 21, 2020 and May 9, 2021. They found that the rates of averted death varied greatly by state. The average state experienced five fewer deaths from COVID-19 per 10,000 adult residents. Adjusting for population size, New York saw the largest estimated reduction, with 11.7 fewer COVID-19 deaths per 10,000 adults, and Hawaii had the smallest reduction, with 1.1 fewer COVID-19 deaths per 10,000. IUPUI Professor Sumedha Gupta, the lead author of the new study, says the research shows the huge impact of vaccination on the number of lives saved, and that showing clear evidence of the benefits of vaccination can help all of us make more informed decisions about vaccination campaigns and policies. For states lagging behind on vaccinations, Gupta says it’s important to think about informing residents of gains in life associated with vaccinations through educational campaigns, and by improving access to ensure that those who can be vaccinated are getting vaccinated. Overall, the researchers say, the new study brings into focus the dramatic success of the early months of the nation’s coronavirus vaccine rollout.
In other news, increasingly, bacterial infections are becoming difficult to treat, in part, because the bacteria become antibiotic-resistant. Now, an IU biologist’s study of microbial populations could help researchers answer questions about chronic infections and antibiotic resistance. IU biology professor Jay Lennon and his research team found that bacteria can persist for a long period of time despite facing starvation. They studied about 100 populations of different bacteria, which had no access to external food for 1,000 days and found that almost all survived. In fact, the research team estimated that energy-limited bacteria can have lifespans that rival, and in some cases exceed, those of plants and animals. The study used survival analyses to estimate that some populations have extinction times of up to 100,000 years. Although such predictions can’t be measured, Lennon says the numbers are consistent with the ages of viable bacteria that have been recovered from ancient materials such as amber, permafrost and sediments at the bottom of the deepest oceans. The research team also found that under lean, food-limited conditions, the bacteria still managed to mutate and evolve. Lennon says the research suggests that microbes seem well-adapted to famine conditions, which helps explain how complex microbial communities are maintained over time. The question of how bacteria survive long periods of energy limitation is relevant to understanding chronic infections in humans and other hosts, Lennon says, and is related to better understanding how some pathogens tolerate drugs like antibiotics.