Five more things, May 9

I couldn’t decide which of these news items to focus on for a short post this week, so I wrote blurbs for all five. This title and format are inspired by Rob Meyer’s Weekly Planet newsletter.

  1. HHS added vaccinations to its facility-level hospitalization dataset: Last week, I discussed the HHS’s addition of COVID-19 patient admissions by age to its state-level hospitalization dataset. This week, the HHS followed that up with new fields in its facility-level dataset, reflecting vaccinations among hospital staff and patients. You can find the dataset here and read more about the new fields in the FAQ here (starting on page 14). It’s crucial to note that these are optional fields, meaning hospitals can submit their other COVID-19 numbers without any vaccination reporting. Only about 3,200 of the total 5,000 facilities in the HHS dataset have opted in—so don’t sum these numbers to draw conclusions about your state or county. Still, this is the most detailed occupational data I’ve seen for the U.S. thus far.
  2. A new IHME analysis suggests the global COVID-19 death toll may be double reported counts: 3.3 million people have died from COVID-19 worldwide as of May 8, according to the World Health Organization. But a new modeling study from the University of Washington’s Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) suggests that the actual death number is 6.9 million. Under-testing and overburdened healthcare systems may contribute to reporting systems missing COVID-19 deaths, though the reasons—and the undercount’s magnitude—are different in each country. In the U.S., IHME estimates about 900,000 deaths, while the CDC counts 562,000. Read STAT’s Helen Branswell for more context on this study.
  3. The NYT published a dangerous misrepresentation of vaccine hesitancy (then quietly corrected it): A New York Times story on herd immunity garnered a lot of attention (and Twitter debate) earlier this week. One specific aspect of the story stuck out to some COVID-19 data experts, though: a U.S. map entitled, “Uneven Willingness to Get Vaccinated Could Affect Herd Immunity.” The map, based on HHS estimates, claims to display vaccine confidence at the county level. But the estimates are really more reflective of state averages, and moreover, the NYT originally double-counted the people who are strongly opposed to vaccines, leading to a map that made the U.S. look much more hesitant than it actually is. Biologist Carl Bergstrom has a thread detailing the issue, including original and corrected versions of the map.
  4. We still need better demographic data: A poignant article in The Atlantic from Ibram  Kendi calls attention to gaps in COVID-19 data collection that continue to loom large, more than a year into the pandemic. The story primarily discusses race and ethnicity data, citing the COVID Racial Data Tracker (which I worked on), but Kendi also highlights other underreported populations. For example: “The only available COVID-19 data on undocumented immigrants come from Immigration and Customs Enforcement detention centers.”
  5. NIH college student trial is having a hard time recruiting: If you, like me, have been curious about how that big NIH trial to study vaccine effectiveness in college students has progressed since it was announced last March, I recommend this story from U.S. News reporter Chelsea Cirruzzo. The study aimed to recruit 12,000 students at a select number of colleges, but because the vaccine rollout has progressed faster than expected, researchers are having a hard time finding not-yet-vaccinated students to enroll. (1,000 are enrolled so far.) Now, students at all higher ed institutions can join.

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