Next in vaccination data demands: some, oh god, just any occupational data

New York state reports vaccine coverage among state hospital workers; this is the closest that any state gets to vaccination data by occupation.

I was having a truly lovely evening, hot chocolate in hand, paging through the New York State vaccination dashboard until I realized one glaring absence: Why is there no occupational data for who is getting vaccinated? 

This isn’t just a problem with the New York state dashboard. According to our updated annotations on state vaccination data sources, not a single one reports out vaccination by occupation. I suppose I shouldn’t ask for so much—only 36 states report vaccination by race and ethnicity, which I thought was the bare minimum—but I’m used to getting disappointment at this point. 

Nihilism aside, here’s why that’s weird. Pretty much everyone is considering one’s occupation into whether they’re eligible for the vaccine or not—hell, that’s how this whole thing started after all. But now that we’ve moved beyond just health care workers getting vaccinated, the data hasn’t kept up. 

For example, NYC has included “in-person college instructors” in eligibility for the vaccine since January 11. Wouldn’t it be nice to know just how many in-person professors have gotten vaccinated? It’d sure be helpful if Barnard ever decides to do in-person classes again. Or what about taxi drivers? Again in NYC, because that’s where I live, they became eligible for vaccination on February 2. From a personal standpoint, I’d like to know if I could send my taxi driver to the hospital if my mask slips.

To be fair, we are seeing some occupation-adjacent data. First, a few sources group vaccinations by where the shots were given, like Massachusetts, or by provider type, like Utah. These include shots given in correctional facilities. While it’s not as good as just stating outright which occupations people getting vaccinated have, it could be used as a proxy for something similar. Additionally, New York tracks hospital worker vaccinations, but they don’t differentiate between physicians and other staff. Finally, long-term care facilities are going through a different program, so data for LTC employees usually gets its own category in a lot of states, like in New York again.

But we shouldn’t be satisfied with proxies and incomplete data; I’ve realized my worth since drafting the title for this segment. I—no, we—deserve better. This is critical for understanding vaccine equity and how close we are to restoring “normalcy.” If we don’t know how many taxi drivers or how many college instructors are getting vaccinated, it’s going to be a lot harder to have conversations about when it’s safe to ride in a taxi or attend in-person classes. It’s going to be a lot harder to have conversations about which taxi drivers or which instructors are able to get vaccinated. It’s also important to see just how well pushing taxi drivers to the front of the line works in actually getting them vaccinated. We’ve lifted one barrier, but are there others that we’re missing? 

It’s entirely possible that healthcare providers just aren’t used to collecting this kind of data. But it’s still necessary, and right now, it’s just another example of flying blind when we really shouldn’t be.

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