This May 13, 2020 photo made with a fisheye lens shows a list of the confirmed COVID-19 cases in Salt Lake County early in the coronavirus pandemic at the Salt Lake County Health Department, in Salt Lake City. After a weekend of gun violence in America, Saturday, May 14, 2022, when shootings killed and wounded people grocery shopping, going to church and simply living their lives, the nation marked a milestone of 1 million deaths from COVID-19. The number, once unthinkable, is now a pedestrian reality in the United States, just as is the reality of the continuing epidemic of gun violence that kills tens of thousands of people a year. Credit: Rick Bowmer

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It’s a number that seemed unimaginable when the COVID pandemic began in 2020 – 1 million Americans have now lost their lives to the virus. The U.S. passed this tragic milestone last week. Worldwide, more than 6 million people have died with COVID-19.

Each one of those deaths leaves a hole in a family, a community, perhaps a workplace or school.

These losses are made worse by the news that the number of COVID deaths in America could have been lessened if more people took a simple precaution – getting vaccinated. The U.S. had a much higher COVID death rate per capita than other wealthy developed nations, especially during the winter omicron wave. It also had one of the lowest vaccination rates.

New analysis by Brown University and Microsoft AI Health found that the number of COVID deaths since Jan. 1, 2021, roughly when vaccines were first available, could have been cut in half if more people have received a COVID inoculation.

In Maine, universal vaccination could have saved nearly 1,100 lives, the researchers concluded. That’s more than half the 1,928 Mainers who had died of COVID when their study was done.

A 90 percent vaccination rate among adults — up from the current rate of about 82 percent — would have saved more than 500 lives in Maine, the researchers found.

The number of vaccine-preventable deaths nationally is higher in the Brown-Microsoft analysis than in previous reviews because it also includes an assessment of people who were eligible for booster shots but did not receive them.

Other researchers not affiliated with the study noted that the impact of vaccines could be overstated because states with low vaccination rates also tended to have low rates of other protective measures such as mask wearing and limits on gathering indoors.

“At a time when many in the U.S. have given up on vaccinations, these numbers are a stark reminder of the effectiveness of vaccines in fighting this pandemic,” said Stefanie Friedhoff, associate professor of the practice in Health Services, Policy and Practice at the Brown University School of Public Health, and a co-author of the analysis. “We must continue to invest in getting more Americans vaccinated and boosted to save more lives.”

Vaccinations substantially reduce individual risk of severe illness or death from COVID-19, BDN reporter Jessica Piper reported last week. A U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention analysis using data from 23 states found people who are not vaccinated against COVID-19 were 10 times more likely to die from it in the month of February than people who were vaccinated, when adjusted for age.

People who got a booster shot saw their risk of death cut in half compared to those who only received the original vaccine course.

It’s not too late to get vaccinated. The state’s vaccination website lists clinics, pharmacies and medical offices that are offering COVID vaccinations and booster shots. Schedule your’s today.

The Bangor Daily News editorial board members are Publisher Richard J. Warren, Opinion Editor Susan Young, Deputy Opinion Editor Matt Junker and BDN President Todd Benoit. Young has worked for the BDN...