Findings from a paper published by the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimate that 22,138 lives in Scotland were saved as a direct result of the COVID-19 vaccination programme.  

The paper, supported by Public Health Scotland (PHS), documents the estimated number of lives saved from COVID-19 vaccination programmes across 33 European countries, including Scotland, from December 2020 to March 2023.  

It highlights that during the study period, COVID-19 vaccines reduced deaths by 57% across the WHO European Region, saving over 1.4 million lives, with most of those saved being aged 60 years or older. 

The largest reduction in mortality was achieved in countries, such as Scotland, that implemented early vaccination programmes which covered large parts of the population and reached high vaccination coverage. 

The paper estimates that in Scotland around 70% of deaths have been averted among those over 25 years old as a direct result of the vaccination programme. This provides an updated figure from an earlier estimate that was published by the WHO in 2021. 

Discussing the study, co-author Dr Jim McMenamin, Head of Health Protection Infection Services at PHS, said: 

"This important research indicates the benefits of early implementation and high uptake of the COVID-19 vaccination programme in Scotland. Thanks to all those who contributed to the vaccination programme and our communities in Scotland, it is now estimated that over 22 thousand lives were saved.  

“This underscores the vital impact that vaccinations have played in our response to the pandemic. We are hugely grateful to all those who have played their part by taking up the offer of vaccination and to colleagues who continue to work tirelessly to deliver COVID-19 vaccines to those most at-risk." 

Reflecting on the continued risk that COVID-19 and other respiratory illnesses present, Dr Sam Ghebrehewet, Head of Vaccination and Immunisation at PHS, said: 

“Our latest data suggest that there is continued circulation of COVID-19 and flu in Scotland, with 700 people admitted to hospital in the first week of January alone.” 

“We know that vaccination remains the best way to protect yourself against the most likely circulating strains of these viruses and it’s not too late to get vaccinated. I strongly encourage those who have not yet received their winter vaccines for COVID-19 and flu to increase their protection by taking up the offer if eligible.” 

Public Health Minister Jenni Minto said: 

“While we must first remember all those who lost a loved one to COVID-19 we can be very proud of our world-leading vaccination programme which the World Health Organisation (WHO) estimates reduced the mortality rate by 70% among all adults aged 25 and over in Scotland.  

“The WHO report ranks Scotland’s COVID-19 vaccination programme as joint fourth in terms of its success. This could not have happened without the incredible efforts of staff and volunteers across the country and, of course, everyone who took up their offer of a vaccine.  

“Unfortunately, COVID-19 is still in circulation - we know the degree of protection from the vaccines offered wanes over time which is why booster vaccination is needed to maintain the best protection against COVID-19 for those at highest risk of severe effects of the virus. So we encourage all those eligible for a winter booster, to take up the offer before the programme ends on 31 March 2024.”  

Find out more about COVID-19 and flu vaccinations in Scotland, including where the nearest drop-in clinics are, or to book an appointment, by visiting 

View the WHO report on the estimated number of lives directly saved by COVID-19 vaccination programmes 

View our latest PHS viral respiratory diseases report 


Last updated: 18 January 2024