An article published this past weekend in The New York Times highlights a glaring problem with the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and its policy recommendations related to the pandemic during the past two years. The problem has to do with lack of transparency regarding hospitalizations for COVID-19 and the effectiveness of vaccinations for the illness.1 2 The Times article, written by Apoorva Mandavilli, starts out:
For more than a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has collected data on hospitalizations for Covid-19 in the United States and broken it down by age, race and vaccination status. But it has not made most of the information public. When the C.D.C. published the first significant data on the effectiveness of boosters in adults younger than 65 two weeks ago, it left out the numbers for a huge portion of that population: 18- to 49-year-olds…1 3
The article continues:
Two full years into the pandemic, the agency leading the country’s response to the public health emergency has published only a tiny fraction of the data it has collected, several people familiar with the data said.
The CDC has shared only a “tiny fraction” of its COVID data with the American public?
Former CDC Director Thinks Agency Should Let COVID Data Speak for Itself
According to CDC spokesperson, Kristen Nordlund, one of the reasons for the lack of data transparency is because “basically, at the end of the day, [the data is] not yet ready for prime time,” noting that the CDC’s “priority when gathering any data is to ensure that it’s accurate and actionable.”1 In an interview with Fox News, former CDC director Robert Redfield, MD confirmed this view, saying…
One of the things is that CDC has a tendency to look at data and make sure that they believe that data is accurate. They call it curating the data. So very frequently the data is out of sync to be able to be in real-time to respond.4
But Dr. Redfield suggested that he disagreed with this practice. He said that he believes whatever data the CDC collects should “absolutely get out there in real-time.” He added:
I think the best thing for CDC to do is to tell the American public the truth and let the data there. I’m sure the American public is intelligent enough to understand the explanations. I know there’s a concern that they have that the data may somehow be misinterpreted to determine the efficacy of the vaccines, rather than just tell people the truth.4
CDC Reluctance to Track COVID “Breakthrough Cases” Due to Fear of Contributing to Vaccine Hesitancy
Nordlund reportedly said that another reason for the CDC’s hesitancy to be more transparent was due to fear that its data might be misinterpreted—that information about the number of fully vaccinated people “breakthrough” SARS-CoV-2 infections, for example, could lead to concerns about the effectiveness of the COVID shots.1 2
Epidemiologist Jessica Malaty Rivera, MS, who was a member of the team that ran The COVID Tracking Project,5 dismissed the CDC worries about incomplete data being misinterpreted. She said, “We are at a much greater risk of misinterpreting the data with data vacuums, than sharing the data with proper science, communication and caveats.”
During the past two years, the CDC has frequently been criticized for its COVID and COVID vaccine data collection practices, its mixed and confusing messaging and a growing perception that the agency has not been fully transparent with the American public regarding the pandemic.6 7 8 9 10 11 12 13 14 15 16
Perhaps one of the clearest examples of the CDC’s failure to provide timely and accurate COVID-related information is the agency’s inability or unwillingness to adequately track the number of cases in which fully vaccinated (and boosted) individuals have tested positive for SARS-CoV-2. Because of this, it is not known how many “breakthrough cases” there have been in the United States. Consequently, there is no way to know for sure how effective the COVID shots have been in preventing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 virus and COVID illness.
This represents a huge and fundamental scientific knowledge gap underlying the primary tool the U.S. government has aggressively pushed on the American people to deal with COVID. But this is only part of the problem. That other part has to do with the lack of reliable information regarding the number of people in the U.S. who have been hospitalized with COVID.
In April 2021, the CDC arbitrarily decided to stop tracking coronavirus breakthrough cases so that it could focus on tracking only breakthrough cases that resulted in hospitalization or death. The assumption was that this major change in policy would allow the agency to more accurately gauge the number of vaccinated people being hospitalized for COVID and, by extension, the overall number of people hospitalized for the illness.12
CDC System for Tracking COVID Hospitalizations in Need of Overhaul
But it has recently come to light that the system the CDC has been using to count COVID hospitalizations is deeply flawed. According to an article in Politico on Feb. 7, 2021 titled “Biden officials trying to recalculate U.S. Covid-19 hospitalizations,” the U.S. government has established a task force to work with “hospitals nationwide to improve COVID-19 reporting.” The task force wants hospitals to report the number of patients who are hospitalized because they have COVID and separate those from the patients who are hospitalized for other reasons but test positive for the SARS-CoV-2 virus after being admitted.17 18
As reported by The Vaccine Reaction earlier this month:
What this suggests is that, in the past, U.S. hospitals have been counting people hospitalized for reasons other than COVID as COVID patients if they happened to test positive for SARS-CoV-2 after admission. This would have the effect of increasing hospital COVID case counts, making the effects of COVID on U.S. hospitals appear worse than they actually were. Remember all those media reports about how overwhelmed hospitals were with COVID patients? It now appears that at least some of that reporting may have been inaccurate, even grossly inaccurate.18
So not only do we not know how effective the COVID shots have been in real-world circumstances, we do not know how many vaccinated (or unvaccinated) people have been hospitalized for COVID—which means that we really do not know how many people have actually died of COVID, in general. It is no wonder the CDC has consistently found it so difficult to be forthcoming.
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1 Mandavilli A. The C.D.C. Isn’t Publishing Large Portions of the Covid Data It Collects. The New York Times Feb. 20, 2022.
2 Rumpf S. CDC Under New Scrutiny For Collecting Wide Variety of Covid-Related Data But Publishing ‘Only a Tiny Fraction’. MSN Feb. 20, 2022.
3 Mandavilli A. Younger Americans Benefited Less From Booster Shots Than Older People. The New York Times Feb. 4, 2022.
4 Fox News. CDC reportedly published ‘tiny fraction’ of COVID data. Feb. 21, 2022.
5 The COVID Tracking Project. Mar. 7, 2021.
6 Abutaleb Y, Sun LH. How CDC data problems put the U.S. behind on the delta variant. The Washington Post Aug. 19, 2021.
7 Feldmann L. The trouble with transparency: How pandemic is challenging the CDC. The Christian Science Monitor Aug. 5, 2021.
8 Fox M. Analysis: CDC fails to publish data needed to judge risk of breakthrough infection CNN July 28, 2021.
9 Pollard MS, Davis LM. Decline in Trust in the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention During the COVID-19 Pandemic. RAND 2021.
10 Simmons-Duffin S. CDC is criticized for failing to communicate, promises to do better. NPR Jan. 7, 2022.
11 Vestal C, Ollove M. Local Health Officials Worry CDC Has ‘Lost Its Soul’. The Pew Charitable Trusts Sept. 25, 2020.
12 Cáceres M. CDC Intentionally Undercounting COVID-19 “Breakthrough Cases” in Vaccinated Persons. The Vaccine Reaction May 23, 2021.
13 CBSN. CDC Lacking Data on Breakthrough COVID-19 Infections. The Vaccine Reaction Sept. 6, 2021.
14 CNVC. CDC Pressured to Track Breakthrough COVID Cases Among the Vaccinated. The Vaccine Reaction July 26, 2021.
15 Miltimore J. What is the True Vaccine Breakthrough Rate? The CDC Doesn’t Want You to Know. The Vaccine Reaction Oct. 11, 2021.
16 Putka S. CDC Hasn’t Updated COVID Vax Breakthrough Data. MedPage Today Nov. 11, 2021.
17 Banco E. Biden officials trying to recalculate U.S. Covid-19 hospitalizations. Politico Feb. 7, 2022.
18 Cáceres M. U.S. Hospitals May ‘Recalculate’ How They Report COVID Cases. The Vaccine Reaction Feb. 13, 2022.