The CDC needs to release state-by-state data on who’s getting vaccinated

For months, I’ve been calling on the CDC to release state-by-state demographic data on who is getting vaccinated. While the vast majority of states report this information themselves, the state data are completely unstandardized—making it difficult to perform comprehensive analyses or compare one state to another.

“The vaccine data that individual states are publishing replicate the patchwork nature of the other state-level COVID-19 data our teams have been compiling,” COVID Tracking Project leaders Alice Goldfarb and Erin Kissane wrote in The Atlantic in January.

While many more states are reporting vaccination demographics now than in January—Montana and Wyoming are the only two states that now fail to report vaccinations by race—the data continue to be patchwork and hard to analyze.

Bloomberg has devoted a small team to analyzing and presenting these data in the publication’s U.S. Vaccine Demographics Tracker. But Bloomberg isn’t making their underlying data public, so other journalists and researchers are unable to build on this work. And really, it shouldn’t be on journalists to standardize from a fragmented state-by-state landscape—it should be the work of the CDC.

That’s why I was thrilled when, this week, we finally got that data from the CDC. Well… sort-of.

A team from KHN received CDC state-by-state demographic vaccination data via a public records request. This team—which includes Hannah Recht, Rachana Pradhan, and Lauren Weber—analyzed the CDC’s data and made their work public on GitHub.

The data indicate that, despite promises from the White House to prioritize vulnerable communities in the vaccination campaign, a lot of inequities persist: “KHN’s analysis shows that only 22% of Black Americans have gotten a shot, and Black rates still trail those of whites in almost every state.”

In some states, white residents have been vaccinated at almost twice the rate of Black residents. In Iowa, for example, 15% of the Black population has received at least one dose—compared with 37% of the white population. Other states with high disparities include Florida, New Hampshire, Maine, Wisconsin, New Jersey, New York, Hawaii, and Connecticut.

Hispanic/Latino vaccination rates also lag behind the rates for white residents in some states, but the disparities are not as drastic as those for the Black population. Nationwide, 22% of Black Americans have received at least one dose, compared to 33% of white Americans.

Both Native Americans and Asian Americans have higher vaccination rates than the white population. Many tribes, in particular, have made dedicated efforts to promote vaccination.

And another hopeful caveat: vaccination rates for minorities have improved in recent weeks as the rate for white Americans goes down. In the last two weeks, about half of first doses administered in the U.S. have gone to people of color. This includes about 24% of doses going to Hispanic/Latino Americans, 10% going to Black Americans, and 8% going to Asian Americans.

The day after KHN’s analysis was published, Victoria Knight (another KHN reporter) asked CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky whether the agency would add state-level race and ethnicity vaccination data to its dashboard.

“We have been updating our website,” Dr. Walensky said in response. “I can’t say that it’s daily; I believe that it’s weekly.”

And yet as of Sunday morning, May 23, state-by-state demographic data are nowhere to be found on the CDC’s site.

Knight also asked what the CDC is doing to address the high number of vaccinations for which demographic details are unknown. Race/ethnicity data are missing for about 44% of vaccinated Americans, meaning that true disparities may be even starker.

In some states, that unknown percentage is much higher than 44%. Eight states “either refuse to provide race and ethnicity details to the CDC or are missing that information for more than 60% of people vaccinated,” according to KHN. These states are excluded from KHN’s analysis as a result: they are Alabama, California, Michigan, Minnesota, South Dakota, Texas, Vermont and Wyoming.

Dr. Walensky told reporters the CDC is working with state and local public health departments to improve demographic reporting, but didn’t provide specifics.

In order to continue improving vaccination rates for minority communities, the CDC needs to actually make all of the agency’s data public. If state-by-state demographic data were easily available, researchers and reporters like me could more easily identify both the success stories and the disappointments—and help the states that are lagging catch up. 

As Hannah Recht put it on Twitter: “we should not have to keep FOIAing for CDC state-level data that they could just put online if they wanted to.”

More vaccine reporting

  • COVID source shout-out: The CDD vaccinations page
    Since early January, the COVID-19 Data Dispatch has maintained a page of detailed annotations on all the major sources for vaccination data in the U.S. This includes government sources (the CDC, all 50 states, and D.C.), along with a few notable news publications and independent dashboards. The page is now switching to an every-other-week update schedule from every week.
  • Featured sources, June 13
    Featured sources for the week of June 13 include vaccine distribution by Congressional districts, fiscal accountability for COVID-19 responses, and risk levels for kids.
  • 25 million doses is a drop in the global vaccination bucket
    On Thursday, the Biden administration made a big (and long-awaited) announcement: the federal government is sending 25 million vaccine doses from America’s stockpile to other countries.25 million doses—or even the 80 million doses that the administration has promised by the end of this month—is a drop in the bucket compared to actual international needs. For example: COVAX needs 1.8 billion doses to vaccinate about half the adult population in low-income countries. COVAX has specifically prioritized 92 low-income nations, representing a total population of 3.8 billion.
  • Moderna for the middle children
    Good news for kids hoping for jabs in arms: Moderna has announced promising results for its trial in adolescent-aged children. In around 4,000 adolescents, the vaccine proved to be 94.1% effective in preventing disease. No cases in the vaccinated group were found two weeks after the second shot, while 4 cases were found in the unvaccinated control group.
  • Why did the CDC change its breakthrough case reporting?
    Earlier this month, the CDC made a pretty significant change in how it tracks breakthrough cases. Instead of reporting all cases, the agency is only investigating and collecting data on those cases that result in hospitalizations or deaths. Here’s what this decision means, and why I’m calling it a lazy move.

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