COVID-19 Insight: The Changing Landscape of Data

With vaccinations rolling out across the country, how do you contextualize the data?


Carefully.

The pandemic brought to light the team of players necessary to make public health work. Unfortunately, the infrastructure to support that team is fractured – and data collection demonstrates this perfectly.

After twelve months of ever-changing policy and evolving pandemic response, data has been reported across cases, testing, test outcomes, fatalities and now vaccines. How and what data is collected has proven to be a challenge.

Race/ethnicity was not collected uniformly or, in some cases, collected at all. Data definitions varied widely. For example, some states reported fatalities as those who died with the disease and others only when the individual died from the disease.

Testing and case data is particularly fickle. The number of tests does not equate to unique individuals as many get multiple tests, and cases are not typically reported by government entities over the weekend or on holidays which creates artificial peaks in the data.

In December 2020, the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) released COVID-related ICD-10 codes for 2021 which will help align reporting across healthcare settings and others needing to work with insurance.

Vaccination Data

The CDC has released state-level data for vaccinations. Metopio has curated two rates.

First, COVIV represents the percentage of people who have completed their required dosage whether that be one vaccination or two. COVIW represents the percentage of people who have had at least one COVID vaccine, even if that was also their last. See Why Rates Matter.

This data is updated daily and will also evolve over time.

There still isn't a universal standard or mandate to collect race/ethnicity data. This poses challenges in assessing the equitable distribution of vaccines which is at the forefront of public discussion.

Currently, the CDC is only providing a national snapshot of vaccinations by race/ethnicity which you can access here . As of March 2, data on race/ethnicity was only available for just over half or 53% of the vaccinations.

Another consideration is how each state decided to prioritize various populations for vaccinations. Without national guidelines, each state set their own standards.

By and large, senior citizens and front-line healthcare workers were prioritized even if these categories were defined differently from state to state. Early data will be skewed to reflect these populations and get more noisy as each state moves at a different pace. It is important to note that while these populations were prioritized, it doesn’t mean they were able to easily get registered or were interested in receiving a vaccination. Requirements around temperature and distribution of vaccines have also created opportunities for individuals outside of priority groups to be vaccinated to ensure that the doses do not go unused.

Finally, the first vaccines released from Moderna and Pfizer require two shots to achieve optimum efficacy but now we have Johnson & Johnson's single dose vaccination as well. Various strains of the virus may require boosters or additional vaccinations may be approved so there is no simple or easy way to encapsulate total vaccination progress in a single number.

What’s Next

New virus strains. Vacillating mask mandates and capacity restrictions. Continued vaccinations. Summer.

Life goes on as we try to understand the impact of COVID-19 on populations and places. The pandemic has provided us clear examples of where we can improve data collection and analysis. While imperfect, the process should continue to evolve and we should be cognizant of context as we collect and analyze what is available to understand its impact.

As your provider of quality, trusted data, Metopio considers all these questions and more when curating public data. We have internal processes in place to ensure consistent reporting and definitions across jurisdictions, account for the impact of reporting issues, estimate the likely bias and skew resulting from reporting and definitional challenges, and provide clearly defined demographic breakdowns where available.

Raw public datasets are often thorny and challenging to interpret; we do this work so you don’t have to. For instance, we can add your local jurisdiction's vaccination data which is often more granular and mapped to smaller geographies such as county, ZIP code or where available census tract. Check out our Curated Data Library made available to all subscribers for more information on our public data sets, including topics related to COVID-19.

Can we help your organization understand the impact of COVID-19 on populations and places you care about? Contact us