The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been collecting detailed information on Covid hospitalizations for more than a year which breaks cases down by age, race and vaccination status - yet the agency has withheld most of it from the public according to the New York Times.
What's more, the agency appears to have selectively published information to support messaging behind boosters.
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, the group least likely to benefit from extra shots, because the first two doses already left them well-protected. -NYT
As the Times notes, much of the withheld information could aid in state and local health decisions in their efforts to bring the virus under control. Detailed breakdowns of hospitalizations by age and race, for example, could help officials identify the most at-risk populations in order to more efficiently allocate resources - such as whether healthy adults need booster shots.
According to CDC spokeswoman Kristen Nordlund, the agency's lack of disclosure is "because, basically, at the end of the day, it's not yet ready for prime time," adding that the agency's "priority when gathering any data is to ensure that it’s accurate and actionable."
Nordlund also said the agency is afraid that the information might be 'misinterpreted.'
CDC deputy director for public health, Dr. Daniel Jernigan, says that the pandemic exposed weaknesses in the agency's data systems - and those at the state levels, which he says aren't keeping up with the sheer volume of data.
"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," he said.
Another excuse; the CDC apparently is awash in red tape and has 'multiple bureaucratic divisions that must sign off on important publications,' along with requirements to notify the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) and the White House of their plans.
The agency came under fire last year for failing to track so-called breakthrough infections in vaccinated Americans - which they said would be 'extremely rare,' and then 'rare,' and then the messaging started shifting to how the vaccine still prevented death (yet, they omitted the fact that these were largely elderly and those with comorbidities).
According to a federal official familiar with the CDC's data collection, the agency has been keeping tabs on patients since Covid vaccines were rolled out - and that the agency has been reluctant to make those figures public "because they might be misinterpreted as the vaccines being ineffective."
Ms. Nordlund confirmed that as one of the reasons. Another reason, she said, is that the data represents only 10 percent of the population of the United States. But the C.D.C. has relied on the same level of sampling to track influenza for years. -NYT
"We have been begging for that sort of granularity of data for two years," said Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist and part of the team that ran Covid Tracking Project, an independent effort that compiled data on the pandemic till March 2021. She added that a detailed analysis "builds public trust, and it paints a much clearer picture of what's actually going on."
Experts also disagree on the potential for 'misinterpretation."
"We are at a much greater risk of misinterpreting the data with data vacuums, than sharing the data with proper science, communication and caveats," said Rivera.
Meanwhile, it's been difficult to locate CDC data on the percentage of children hospitalized for Covid who have other medical conditions, according to Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Committee on Infectious Diseases, which asked for that information in December and were told it was unavailable.
On the bright side, the CDC has been releasing city wastewater data - a reliable indicator for measuring covid spikes among a population. Of course, that doesn't tell you if booster shots are working in 18-to-49-year-olds.