Data Holes Undermine Vaccine Equity Efforts

Physician Michelle Chester draws the COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Queens, New York, December 14, 2020.  Image: Mark Lennihan/AFP/Getty
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Physician Michelle Chester draws the COVID-19 vaccine into a syringe at Long Island Jewish Medical Center. Queens, New York, December 14, 2020. Image: Mark Lennihan/AFP/Getty

Botched US efforts to collect demographic data on early COVID-19 vaccine recipients are making it tough to measure equity in early vaccine distribution. Key points:

  • Data on race and ethnicity are missing for about half of the first vaccine recipients in the US, according to the latest CDC Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
  • The US response has been faulted for disparities in race and ethnicity—from diagnoses to deaths.

Available data for the 13 million people vaccinated Dec. 14 to Jan. 14 show:

  • 63% were women
  • 55% were 50 years or older
  • 60.4% were non-Hispanic white

The available data seems to match the expected demographics of the 2 groups prioritized for first vaccines—health-care workers and long-term care residents. 
 

But: Confident conclusions cannot be drawn with such incomplete data.

What Happened? Sites used varying formats or confusing categorizations to collect data. For example, a Louisiana site said “African” instead of “African American.”

What could help? National standards.

The foggy data picture on race and ethnicity must be corrected, said Marcella Nunez-Smith, chair of President Biden’s COVID-19 equity task force, yesterday: “We cannot ensure an equitable vaccination program without data to guide us,” The Washington Post reports.

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