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

  • U.S. moves to approve booster shots despite minimal evidence
    This week, the federal government announced that the U.S. intends to provide third vaccine doses to all Americans who received the Pfizer or Moderna vaccines. This booster shot distribution will start in September, with adults becoming eligible once they hit eight months after their second shot. Many epidemiologists, vaccine experts, global health experts, and other scientists have criticized the decision.
  • Three more COVID-19 data points, August 15
    A couple of additional items from this week’s COVID-19 headlines: children hospitalized with COVID-19, immunocompromised Americans now eligible for a third dose, and low cases linked to Lollapalooza.
  • The case for a moratorium on booster shots
    This week, the World Health Organization (WHO) called for wealthy nations to stop giving out booster shots in a push towards global vaccine equity. These nations should stall any booster shots until at least September, said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus at a press conference on Wednesday.
  • A dispatch from Provincetown, Mass.
    This week, I had the opportunity to talk to Mike, a Bear Week attendee from Pittsburgh, who caught COVID-19 in Provincetown. He told me about his experience attending parties, getting sick, and learning about the scale of the outbreak.
  • Vaccine requirements are the next big strategy
    After vaccine incentives largely failed to drive up vaccination numbers, government agencies and corporations alike are now opting for requirements. Hundreds of thousands of Americans learned this week that, in order to keep their jobs, they need to get their shots—or go through a more arduous process like weekly COVID-19 testing.

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