vaccine
Boxes containing the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine are prepared to be shipped at the McKesson distribution center in Olive Branch, Mississippi. (Photo by Paul Sancya - Pool/Getty Images)

New analysis examines what might have been. Instead, COVID has killed 13,000 in the state as the vaccination rate remains stuck, with only 61% of people fully vaccinated.

An estimated 5,445 people in Wisconsin would still be alive today had the COVID-19 vaccine been more readily accepted by the public, according to a new analysis from researchers at Brown School of Public Health, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and Microsoft AI for Health.

The analysis—first shared with and reported by National Public Radio—estimates 318,981 Americans could have been saved if nearly everyone eligible had been vaccinated. That’s nearly half of all of the deaths since the vaccine became widely available.

Initial demand for the vaccine was high, but it quickly fell as its safety and efficacy became targets of misinformation—primarily from political conservatives. To figure out how many of those skeptics should still be alive, researchers calculated the peak vaccination rate for each state, and then projected what would happen if that vaccinations had continued at that rate—undisturbed by politics and falsehoods—until all adults in the state were fully vaccinated.

“We did not start early on with information campaigns about why vaccines are important—what do they do for us?” said Stefanie Friedhoff, a professor at the Brown School of Public Health, and one of the authors of the analysis. “We underestimated dramatically the investment it would take to get people familiarized with vaccines because, by and large, we haven’t had a deadly disease like this, so people have become estranged from the important impact of vaccination.”

As a result, said Friedhoff, “The vaccine rollout has been both a remarkable success and a remarkable failure.”

The Wisconsin figure and the national number assume a nearly 100% vaccination rate. But even if the vaccination rate were 85%, it means an estimated 2,986 Wisconsinites would not have died from a coronavirus infection. The state’s actual vaccination rate is 61.2% completing their series, and 64.4% receiving at least one dose. Only 34.3% of the population has received one or more booster shots to bolster protection against the many variants that have sparked another surge in infections.

The state Department of Health Services reports the Wisconsin pandemic death toll at 12,958 as of Tuesday.