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December 15, 2022 – Vaccination campaigns against COVID-19 saved Canada billions in averted health and economic costs, according to a new report from the C.D. Howe Institute.

In “Damage Averted: Estimating the Effects of COVID-19 Vaccines on Hospitalizations, Mortality and Costs in Canada,” authors Rosalie Wyonch and Tingting Zhang provide estimates of  COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths prevented by vaccination as well as the economic costs that could have occurred without vaccines.

“Overall, our analysis shows vaccines were highly effective at reducing COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths – estimates suggest 21 percent fewer cases, 37 percent fewer hospitalizations and 34,900 fewer deaths (from January 2021 to May 2022),” say Wyonch and Zhang.  “The direct cost of vaccine administration compared to the savings associated with averting missed work and treatment costs due to illness indicates an estimated net cost/benefit of –$0.4 billion to $2.1 billion. Using the statistical value of life, the estimated lives saved are valued at an additional $27.6 billion.”  

Regarding economic losses averted, the authors estimate, for example, that a six-month delay in vaccines would have led to economic losses equivalent to about 12.5 percent of GDP, or about $156 billion in economic activity in 2021. 

Canada’s mass vaccination campaigns were a success, say the authors. As of Oct. 9, 2022, 80.3 percent of Canadians had completed a primary series of a vaccine (two doses) and half (49.6) percent had received at least one additional dose. In addition, the authors say, vaccination allowed for a reduction in many preventative public health measures that disrupted the social and economic lives of Canadians. 

The authors’ major policy findings are:

  • Lockdowns were necessary to disrupt the spread of COVID-19 prior to vaccination, providing another pathway for reducing transmission. However, they had significant costs for the economy and the population’s mental health. Less disruptive public health interventions like recommending masks, physical distancing and increased sanitation are less costly. When lockdowns are necessary, implementing targeted restrictions by age group is less economically costly than uniform restrictions.
  • The speed of development and distribution of not just one but many different vaccines for COVID-19 is truly an achievement. Rather than an average of more than 18 months from Health Canada approval to listing on public plans, COVID-19 vaccines took less than a year. Plus, regulatory changes allowed for ongoing submission of new clinical data and regulatory processes to occur in parallel. There are lessons to be learned about parallel regulatory steps, price negotiations and reducing the time-to-patient for innovative medical products.
  • The success of the COVID-19 vaccination campaigns provides insights for other vaccination efforts, particularly for the working-age population. As policies adapt to the changing nature of COVID-19, there may be opportunities to link regular boosters with broader public health immunization and prevention efforts.
  • Since COVID-19 vaccines show waning immunity over time, it is important to continue efforts to increase uptake of booster doses. The infectiousness of the Omicron variants means that COVID-19 will likely become endemic over time and regular booster doses will be required to maintain sufficient levels of population immunity.

Read Full Report

For more information contact: Rosalie Wyonch, Senior Policy Analyst, C.D. Howe Institute; Tingting Zhang, Junior Policy Analyst, C.D. Howe Institute; and Tafadzwa Ndlovu, Communications Officer, C.D. Howe Institute, 416-479-9520 Ext. 9520, tndlovu@cdhowe.org

The C.D. Howe Institute is an independent not-for-profit research institute whose mission is to raise living standards by fostering economically sound public policies. Widely considered to be Canada's most influential think tank, the Institute is a trusted source of essential policy intelligence, distinguished by research that is nonpartisan, evidence-based and subject to definitive expert review.