Some CDC vaccination figures may be off, health experts say

Some health experts are questioning the accuracy of the CDC's COVID-19 vaccination data for adults 65 and older, Kaiser Health News reported Dec. 9. 

The CDC's vaccine tracker has shown for nearly a month that 99.9 percent of U.S. adults ages 65 and older have received at least one COVID-19 shot. But some health experts noted that the dashboard shows more seniors being partially vaccinated (55.4 million as of Dec. 5) than there are people in that age group (54.1 million), according to U.S. Census data.

The vaccine tracker also conflicts with states' data dashboards, experts say. For example, the CDC shows 99.9 percent of seniors in California have been partially vaccinated, while this figure sat at 87 percent on California's own data dashboard as of Dec. 8. 

The accuracy of vaccination figures is crucial to informing public health efforts, according to Howard Forman, MD, a professor of public health at Yale University School of Medicine in New Haven, Conn. 

"I'm not sure how reliable the CDC numbers are," he told Kaiser Health News. "You want to know the best data to plan and prepare and know where to put resources in place — particularly in places that are grossly undervaccinated."

There may be several reasons for these data discrepancies, Kaiser Health News reported. The CDC and states may be using different population estimates, and state data may not include residents who get vaccinated in a different state or at federal facilities, such as prisons. 

In some circumstances, the CDC may not be able to determine what dose a person is receiving, which can cause the agency to overestimate first doses and underestimate booster doses, CDC spokesperson Scott Pauley told Kaiser Health News.

"There are challenges in linking doses when someone is vaccinated in different jurisdictions or at different providers because of the need to remove personally identifiable information [deidentify] data to protect people's privacy," the CDC says in a footnote on its vaccine tracker page. "This means that, even with the high-quality data CDC receives from jurisdictions and federal entities, there are limits to how CDC can analyze those data."

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