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Tags: covid | cdc | pandemic | vaccines

CDC Withholds Key COVID Data, Citing Fears of Misinterpretation

COVID testing site
A COVID-19 testing van sits along a Manhattan street last month in New York City. (Spencer Platt/Getty Images)

By    |   Wednesday, 23 February 2022 02:50 PM EST

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been collecting data for over a year on COVID-19 vaccinations and the use of wastewater reports to track surges in the disease but hasn't released most of the data that it's gathered, claiming the details are being withheld out of fear of their being misinterpreted. 

CDC spokesperson Kristen Nordlund told The New York Times that the federal agency has delayed releasing different parts of the information it has gathered because "at the end of the day, it's not yet ready for prime time," and because the CDC's "priority when gathering any data is to ensure that it’s accurate and actionable."

She also confirmed that the agency believed that such data could be misunderstood, reports the newspaper.

For example, two weeks ago, the CDC's report on the effectiveness of booster shots for adults under the age of 65 left out numbers for people ages 18 to 49, or the group deemed not as likely to benefit from another shot after their first two doses had left them protected against COVID-19. 

In another report, the agency debuted information about wastewater data to be updated daily that could show early signs of a COVID surge. However, some states and localities had shared that information with the CDC since the pandemic's beginnings, but this is the first time the agency has released the findings.

Several people familiar with the withheld data said only a small portion of what has been gathered has been published, despite how its use could help local and state public health officials target efforts against the virus. 

According to the experts, full information on hospitalizations and death, including by age and vaccination status, could have helped better determine if booster shots were needed for healthy adults, and the wastewater information could have helped spot variants and outbreaks earlier.

The agency finally posted the information about boosters for 18-49-year-olds after several inquiries from the Times, but without that information being made readily available, outside experts instead relied on numbers from Israel for recommendations. 

"We want better, faster data that can lead to decision-making and actions at all levels of public health, that can help us eliminate the lag in data that has held us back,"  Dr. Daniel Jernigan, the agency's deputy director for public health science and surveillance, said.

Jernigan added the pandemic showed how the CDC's data systems and those at state levels are out of date and can't handle large volumes of information.

Bureaucracy may also be at play, as the CDC has several divisions that must sign off before important publications are released, and officials must first alert the White House and the Department of Health and Human Services of the plan, the Times reported. 

Further, the agency shares its data with states and its partners before going public with it, in many cases, which also delays its release. 

"The steps that it takes to get something like this released are often well outside of the control of many of the scientists that work at the CDC,"  Samuel Scarpino, managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation's Pandemic Prevention Institute, commented. "The CDC  is a political organization as much as it is a public health organization." 

The agency has been criticized several times during the pandemic, including last year when it failed to track breakthrough infections in vaccinated Americans in favor of a focus on people who became ill enough to die or to be hospitalized.

That information was then used to make risk comparisons with adults who were not vaccinated, rather than to give information of hospitalized people based on age, sex, race, and whether they'd been vaccinated. 

Nordlund also confirmed that the gathered data represents just one-tenth of the United States population, but the Times noted that the agency uses the same sampling data numbers to track influenza infections. 

Epidemiologist Jessica Malaty Rivera, part of the team that ran the independent COVID Tracking Project until March 2021, said such detailed data had been needed, as it "builds public trust, and it paints a much clearer picture of what's actually going on."

She also dismissed the CDC's reasoning that the data could be misinterpreted for not releasing it. 

"We are at a much greater risk of misinterpreting the data with data vacuums than sharing the data with proper science, communication, and caveats," she said. 

© 2023 Newsmax. All rights reserved.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been collecting data for over a year on COVID-19 vaccinations and the use of wastewater reports to track surges in the disease but hasn't released most of the data, the New York Times reports.
covid, cdc, pandemic, vaccines
Wednesday, 23 February 2022 02:50 PM
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