LONDON, ONT. -- A new global study is shedding the light on the need to vaccinate patients waiting for elective surgeries, saying nearly 60,000 lives could be saved. 

"Over 15,000 surgeons and anaesthetists from across 116 countries came together to contribute to this study, making it the largest ever scientific collaboration,” said co-lead author Dr. Dmitri Nepogodiev of the University of Birmingham.

The COVIDSurg Collaborative examined data from more than 140,000 patients from 1,667 hospitals in 116 countries.

The study was done by an international team of researchers including Janet Martin, an associate professor with Western University in London, Ont.

“Based on what we know about the number of surgeries that occur globally, we were able to show we could save close to 60,000 patients around the world if we can immediately prioritize elective surgery patients for vaccines,” said Martin.

According to the Collaborative, previous studies have shown that up to 1.6 per cent of surgical patients will develop a COVID-19 infection after surgery.

The team estimates that these patients have a four to eight times greater risk of death following their surgeries.

For example, patients over 70-years-old undergoing cancer surgery would usually have a 2.8 per cent death rate, but this increases to 18.6 per cent if they develop COVID-19 according to researchers.

“In every single age group that we looked at there was an advantage of having the vaccine before surgery, even among 18- to 49-year-olds and 50- to 69-year-olds, most of whom are not yet eligible for the vaccine,” said Martin.

According to Western University this is the first piece of evidence in Canada to identify surgical patients as an at risk group needing vaccination priority.

While older adults and cancer patients are already prioritized, the study showed a clear benefit to vaccinating every age group for every type of elective surgery, Martin said.

The study also concluded that pre-surgery vaccination is crucial for low- and middle-income countries.

“It’s crucial that policymakers use the data we have collected to support a safe restart to elective surgery,” said Nepogodiev.