CDC does not publish a large portion of the dynamic data it collects

For more than a year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has been collecting data on Covid-19 hospitalizations in the United States and breaking it down by age, race, and immunization status. But it did not make most of the information public.

When the CDC released the first significant data on booster effectiveness in adults under 65 two weeks ago, ignore the numbers for a large portion of that population: People aged 18 to 49, the group the data show, were the least likely to benefit from the additional shots, as the first two doses gave them good protection.

Recently, the company introduced a dashboard about wastewater data on their website will be updated daily and may provide early signals of an impending increase in Covid cases. Several states and localities have shared wastewater information with the agency since the start of the pandemic, but they have never published those findings before.

Two years after the pandemic, the country’s top agency for responding to a public health emergency has released only a fraction of the data it has collected, several people familiar with the data said. .

Much of the information withheld could help state and local health officials better target their efforts to control the virus. Timely, detailed data on hospital admissions by age and race will help health officials identify and help populations most at risk. Information on hospitalizations and deaths by age and immunization status will help inform whether healthy adults need booster shots. And nationwide wastewater monitoring will detect outbreaks and emerging variants early.

With no augmented data for 18 to 49 year olds, outside experts who federal health agencies seek advice from have had to rely on numbers from Israel to make their recommendations on the injections.

Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the CDC, said the agency was slow to release the various data streams “because, essentially, at the end of the day, it’s still not ready for the official timeline.” “The agency’s priority when collecting any data is to make sure it’s accurate and actionable,” she said.

Another reason is fear that the information could be misinterpreted, Ms. Nordlund said.

The pandemic has exposed the fact that data systems at the CDC and at the state level, are outdated and inadequate, said Dr. Daniel Jernigan, the agency’s deputy director of science and oversight of public health. ability to handle large volumes of data. CDC scientists are trying to modernize the system, he said.

“We want better, faster data that can lead to decision-making and action at all levels of public health, which can help us eliminate data lag,” he added. has restrained us.

The CDC also has many administrative divisions that must sign on to important publications, and its officials must notify the Department of Health and Human Services – the agency’s watchdog – and the White House about its plans. surname. The agency often shares data with states and partners before making the data public. Those steps can add delays.

“The CDC is as much a political organization as it is a public health organization,” said Samuel Scarpino, executive director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation Institute for Pandemic Prevention. “The steps required to get something like this published are often beyond the control of many scientists working at the CDC.”

The effectiveness of vaccines and boosters, especially in young people, is one of the most glaring gaps in the data the CDC has published.

Last year, this agency was repeatedly fired because do not track so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated Americans, and focused only on those who became ill enough to require hospitalization or death. The agency presented that information as a risk comparison with unvaccinated adults, rather than providing a timely snapshot of hospitalized patients categorized by age, sex, race, and age. vaccination status.

But the CDC has been collecting information regularly since the Covid vaccine was first rolled out last year, according to a federal official familiar with the effort. The official said the agency was reluctant to make those figures public because they could be misinterpreted because the vaccine was not effective.

Ms. Nordlund insists that is one of the reasons. Another reason, she said, is that the data only represents 10 percent of the US population. But the CDC has relied on the same level of sampling to track the flu for years.

Some outside public health experts were stunned to learn that the information existed.

“We begged,” said Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist and part of the team that runs the Covid Tracking Project, an independent effort that collected data on the pandemic until March 2021. that kind of detailed data for two years.

A detailed analysis, she said, “builds public trust, and it paints a clearer picture of what’s really going on.”

Concerns about misinterpretation of hospital admissions data broken down by vaccination status are not unique to the CDC On Thursday, public health officials in Scotland said they would stop releasing data on case numbers. Covid hospitalizations and deaths due to vaccination status because of similar concerns that this figure will be misrepresented. by anti-vaccination groups.

But experts dismissed the possibility of misuse or misinterpretation of the data as an acceptable reason not to release it.

“We run a far greater risk of misinterpreting data with data suckers than we do sharing data with the right science, communications and alerts,” Ms. Rivera said.

When the Delta variant caused an outbreak in Massachusetts last summer, the fact that three-quarters of those infected had been vaccinated led people to mistakenly conclude that the vaccine was not effective against the virus. re-virus – corroborating the CDC’s concern.

But that could have been avoided if the agency had educated the public from the outset that as more people were vaccinated, the odds of vaccinated people getting sick or hospitalized would also increase.

“Tell the truth, present the data,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert and Food and Drug Administration advisor. “I have to believe that there is a way of explaining these things so that people can understand it.”

Knowing what groups of people are being hospitalized in the United States, what other illnesses those patients may have, and how vaccines change the picture over time will be invaluable, Dr. Offit said.

Offit notes that relying on Israeli data to make enhanced recommendations for Americans is not ideal. Israel definition various serious illnesses relative to the United States, among other factors.

Dr. Offit said of the Israeli scientists: “There is no reason why they should collect and produce better data than we do. “The CDC is the main epidemiological authority in this country, and so you’d think the data came from them.”

Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the Infectious Diseases Committee of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said it is also difficult to find CDC data on the proportion of children hospitalized with Covid with other medical conditions.

Academy staffers asked their counterparts at the CDC for that information during a call in December, according to an AAP spokesperson, and were told no.

Ms. Nordlund pointed to data on the agency’s website that includes this information and the many published reports of childhood hospital admissions with information about children with other health conditions.

The Academy of Pediatrics has repeatedly asked the CDC to estimate how contagious a person is with coronavirus 5 days after symptoms begin – but Dr. Maldonado ultimately received an answer. an article in The New York Times in December.

“They’ve known this for over a year and a half, yes, and they haven’t told us yet,” she said. “I mean, you can’t find anything out of them.”

Wastewater analysts have a better understanding of the CDC’s slow pace in making that data public. CDC has been building the wastewater system since September 2020 and has been able to present the data for the past few months, Ms. Nordlund said. In the meantime, CDC’s state partners already have access to the data, she said.

Despite careful preparation, the CDC released wastewater data a week later than planned. The Covid data tracker was only updated on Thursdays, and the day before the original release date, the scientists managing the tracker realized they needed more time to integrate the data.

“It’s not because the data isn’t ready, it’s because the system and the way it’s displayed on the page isn’t working the way they want it to,” Ms. Nordlund said.

The CDC has received more than $11 billion to modernize its system, which could help speed it up, Ms. Nordlund said. “We’re working on that,” she said.

Agency of public panel currently has data from 31 states. Eight of those states, including Utah, began submitting their data to the CDC in the fall of 2020. Some rely on their expert volunteer scientists; other private companies are paid. But many others, such as Mississippi, New Mexico and North Dakota, have yet to begin monitoring wastewater.

Utah’s fledgling program in April 2020 is now planted to cover According to Nathan LaCross, Utah’s wastewater monitoring program manager, 88% of the state’s population, with samples collected twice a week.

Wastewater data reflects the presence of viruses in entire communities, so it is not hampered by privacy concerns associated with medical information that would normally complicate release. data, experts said.

Dr Scarpino said: “There are many very important and substantive legal and ethical challenges with respect to wastewater data. “The lowered bar definitely means data can flow faster.”

Wastewater monitoring can help identify areas of high case burden early, Dr. LaCross said. That allows officials to better allocate resources such as mobile testing teams and test locations.

Sewage is also a much faster and more reliable barometer of the spread of the virus than the number of cases or positive tests. Dr. Scarpino said that before the country knew about the Delta variant, scientists monitoring wastewater noticed its increase and notified the CDC. They did so in early May, just before the agency famously said vaccinated people could take off their masks.

Mariana Matus, chief executive officer of BioBot Analytics, which specializes in wastewater analysis, said that even now the agency is relying on one technique to capture virus numbers, not different variations in the virus. mixed, says Mariana Matus, chief executive officer of BioBot Analytics, which specializes in wastewater analysis. That would make it difficult for the agency to detect and respond to outbreaks of new variants in a timely manner, she said.

“It’s really exhausting when you see the private sector working faster than the world’s leading public health agency,” said Ms. Rivera. CDC does not publish a large portion of the dynamic data it collects

Fry Electronics Team

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