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
- We failed to vaccinate the world in 2021; will 2022 be more successful?In January, COVAX set a goal that many global health advocates considered modest: delivering 2.3 billion vaccine doses to low- and middle-income countries by the end of 2021. is saying it’ll deliver just 800 million vaccine doses by the end of 2021, according to the Washington Post, and only about 600 million had been delivered by early December.
- One month into vaccinations for kids 5-11, uptake varies wildly by stateIt’s been about a month since the FDA and CDC authorized a version of Pfizer’s vaccine for children ages five to 11. Those kids whose parents immediately took them to get vaccinated are now eligible for their second doses, and will be considered fully vaccinated by Christmas. Despite widespread availability of the shots, vaccine uptake has varied wildly.
- Omicron updates: More transmissible, immune evading, but still not cause for panicWe continue to learn more about this new variant as it spreads rapidly across the world, though much of the data are still preliminary. Here are a few major updates, including how vaccines fare against Omicron, its rapid spread, and more.
- Cash incentives for vaccination have little impactWhile politicians at all levels have praised cash incentives, research has shown that this strategy has little impact on actually convincing Americans to get vaccinated. A recent investigation I worked on (at the Documenting COVID-19 project and the Missouri Independent) provides new evidence for this trend: the state of Missouri allocated $11 million for gift cards that residents could get upon receiving their first or second vaccine dose, but the vast majority of local health departments opted not to participate in the program—and a very small number of gift cards have been distributed thus far.
- Vaccines aren’t enough: What Biden can do about OmicronThis past Monday, President Biden said in a speech, “We’re throwing everything we can at this virus, tracking it from every angle.” Which I, personally, found laughable. The U.S.’s anti-COVID strategy basically revolves around vaccines, and it’s not sufficient for stopping new surges.