NEWSLETTER SIGNUP

Do Something

Spread vaccine confidence

In a report last week, the CDC said that out of more than 1.2 million vaccinated Americans, 0.015% had been hospitalized with the virus and 0.003% had died from it, the Inquirer reported.

Know someone who’s not keen on getting the vaccine? Read this piece on engaging in conversations about COVID-19 vaccination, and listed to this episode of Shortwave: How To Talk About The COVID-19 Vaccine With People Who Are Hesitant.

And check out these resources that may help folks reconsider:

Penn’s 30-slide power point screensaver with myth-busting facts and personal testimonies

Everyone I know is getting Omicron. Does this mean the vaccines don’t work? (Dear Pandemic)

Check out the community transmission rate where you live.

Connect WITH OUR SOCIAL ACTION TEAM



Want accurate data?

Reach out to the City

“Rather than provide rosy estimates dependent on a known unreliable source that’ll likely be revised down, further eroding trust in City Hall, they could instead provide the verifiable totals and say they’re likely an undercount.”

Would you rather not be misled by data that’s not verifiable? Reach out to the Mayor’s Office and the Health Department (you can send along this article) and let them know.

Cheat Sheet

Answers to your latest pandemic questions

Since May, 2020, a crew of badass women scientists from around the country have been answering America’s burning Covid-19 questions. Here, a few recent posts:

I’m vaccinated, and I’ve recovered from Omicron. Can I finally let my guard down?

If everyone is going to get Omicron, what’s the point in avoiding it?

Covid.tests.gov Website Up and Ready for Your Order!

How long can I wear an N95, KN95, or KF94?

For more, go here or sign up for the Dear Pandemic newsletter.

How Reliable are the City’s Vaccine Statistics? 

The Health Department is claiming an adult vax rate of “greater than 95 percent.” The verifiable figure? Not quite so high.

How Reliable are the City’s Vaccine Statistics? 

The Health Department is claiming an adult vax rate of “greater than 95 percent.” The verifiable figure? Not quite so high.

Ever since the Covid-19 pandemic reached Philadelphia, the City has been updating the public on the viral reality we’re facing through regular, at times daily, press briefings. Once the Biden administration began distributing the vaccines that the Trump administration helped develop, the rate of Philadelphians getting vaccinated became a core part of that information.

Today, the City says that over 95 percent of all (adult, this is important) residents have received one dose of the lifesaving inoculations. That’s a great figure. But how accurate is it?

First, the good news: Philadelphia very likely has one of the highest vaccination rates in the country—a credit to healthcare workers and those in the Health Department who have been working nonstop for two straight years, now moving into a third.

Now, the meh news: That 95 percent figure? It’s not exactly rock solid and depends entirely on a leap of faith – a 147,950 person leap of faith, to be exact, and one that’s dependent on the integrity of data from the state.

Now, the meh news: That 95 percent figure? It’s not exactly rock solid and depends entirely on a leap of faith—a 147,950 person leap of faith, to be exact, and one that’s dependent on the integrity of data from the state. The problem there? The state has a history of double counting and other issues with its Covid-19 data.

We can’t easily compare ourselves to other cities, either, given other locales have different data gathering tools and processes. We are certain that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) once claimed a similar 95 percent adult at least one dose rate for Pennsylvania statewide, though.

Of course, that figure was debunked by the Inquirer back in November.

Within Philadelphia’s boundaries, though, there’s a data gathering process that ought to make us proud, even if that much-vaunted 95 percent figure is a little suspect.

The process uses a by-name list, the gold standard in analyzing this kind of thing. It goes like this: First, vaccine providers create a health record they then report to the Health Department for this by-name list. It includes information on each recipient, including their name, demographics, and the brand of the vaccine (important because the Johnson & Johnson single shot is considered both first and second dose for data collection purposes.) This record submission takes 24 hours for most providers, but can, in some rare instances, take up to a week.

Then, after receiving the record, the Health Department searches PhilaVax, the City’s central vaccine database. Initially (pre-pandemic), PhilaVax was used almost exclusively for ensuring kids’ compliance with school vaccine requirements. The City retrofitted Covid-19 vaccines onto that system. This means that many adults don’t have an existing file in PhilaVax initially, so the Health Department creates them. (If they do have a PhilaVax file, the new record is added to the existing logs.)

After that, every weekday, epidemiologists pull reports from PhilaVax pertaining to demography as well as location-based and citywide reports, update the City’s Covid-19 dashboard and ready public briefings. That’s when that vaccine record starts appearing in the public reports, not by name, but now as one of many numbers constituting the overall figure.

At this point, according the Health Department, the only verifiable figure is 83 percent, which is still great – though it is far less than this “greater than 95 percent” the City brags about and a figure tourism bureaus rely on to market to would-be conventioneers and visitors.

Here’s where most of those figures you hear during those press briefings and in news articles come from. In an anecdotal quality control test, I searched for myself by requesting a copy of my digital vaccination record and found all three of my vaccinations accurately chronicled.

But, this process itself only gets us to about 83 percent of adults, not 95 percent. Thus enter that 147,950 person leap of faith.

The City is using state data it has not yet verified to jump from 83 percent to greater than 95 percent.

Eventually, the City will integrate the state’s data with its own. Philadelphians vaccinating in other Pennsylvania counties, which happened especially in the early days last spring, are in this data set. Right now, when looking at the state’s data, the City only knows that a Philadelphia resident got a vaccine. They don’t know who. And they don’t know if they’re on the state’s list two, three, or four times – or already on the City’s list.

To better understand it, stop thinking about doses in chronological order and instead look at them cumulatively.

For example, if Richardson Dilworth got one shot in Philly, one shot in Montgomery County, and a booster back in Philly, he’ll appear once on the City’s at least one dose list, once on the state’s, and, after the state data integration, on the City’s boosted and fully vaccinated lists. But if his name is spelled Richard Dilworth on the state list once and Dick Dilworth on the state list again during a data entry misstep on their end, he’s counted twice in City estimates. Add that estimate to his existing dose record in Philly and one man is doing the work of three to get us to 95 percent.

RELATED: Is it time for a citywide vaccine mandate?

We have no idea how often errors in reporting like the Dilworth example have taken place, but the possibility—along with widespread double counting—seriously calls into question this ballyhooed 95 percent rate the City currently puts at the top of its press briefings.

The Inquirer reports that the state system is known to double count first doses especially. Even the City’s Health Department itself said the state data wasn’t something we could rely on in that report.

Which sort of introduces the question: Why do we even say 95 percent in the first place?

Well, it’s impressive. Isn’t it?.

At this point, according the Health Department, the only verifiable figure is 83 percent, which is still great – though it is far less than this “greater than 95 percent” the City brags about and a figure tourism bureaus rely on to market to would-be conventioneers and visitors.

And the 83 percent figure is in line with one specific group of Philadelphians: City workers. Municipal government has repeatedly had to extend the deadline for City workers to vaccinate while it still wrangles with its police and fire unions. The total figure of City employees adherent to the mandate right now? About 81 percent, not too far off from the 83 percent figure in this analysis.

 Am I just quibbling over trivia? 83, 95, tomato, tomahto, right? Well, trust in institutions is at historic lows.  People have trouble believing the government in general. After years of this plague, everyone is looking for an excuse to go back to normal, unaware that this is normal now.

Are City workers that much more resistant to science than their neighbors? Or are they reflective? In other words, doesn’t the vaccination rate sample of 24,000 City workers work against the idea that the city is over 95 percent?

But does this even matter? Am I just quibbling over trivia? 83, 95, tomato, tomahto, right?

Well, trust in institutions is at historic lows. People have trouble believing the government in general. And, distressingly, after literally years of this plague, everyone is looking for an excuse to go back to normal, unaware that this is normal now.

It’s that going back to a bygone normal that’s causing 2,000 deaths per day nationwide thanks to the hyper contagious omicron variant. There’s also the idea that we shouldn’t provide false or misleading information on a moral level, especially when trying to convince people to visit Philadelphia because it’s “so safe and highly vaccinated.”

RELATED: The answer to our vaccine debacle is education

The rate of Philadelphia adults who have received at least one dose is indeed higher than 83 percent. But where exactly it is in reality is impossible to know until the state data gets integrated into the City’s and cleaned up.

Rather than provide rosy estimates dependent on a known unreliable source that’ll likely be revised down, further eroding trust in City Hall, they could instead provide the verifiable totals and say they’re likely an undercount.

Anything other than this is playing fast and loose with the facts in the City’s favor – and not necessarily in the public interest.

Besides, greater than 95 percent – this was actually asserted to be as high as 98 percent here in Philly until the CDC cautioned against getting higher than 95 to account for U.S. Census variations – feels a little funny.

To put it another way, at least six percent of Americans believe the Moon landing was a hoax. You’re telling me there are more people who believe the Apollo landing was filmed on a studio lot than those who haven’t gotten their first jab?

Plausible, maybe. But that sounds a little out of this world.

UPDATE 5:25 PM: After we published this piece, the Health Department informed The Philadelphia Citizen that the state data integration expected in several weeks or months happened just now instead. In analyzing the data, the Health Department says that while duplicates did occur throughout the list, they were concentrated almost exclusively amongst those under 18. They add that the adult list, contrary to the agency’s earlier statements both to other publications since at least last year and over the course of this reporting, was accurate and so essentially identical to their estimates. As a result, the greater than 95 percent figure is something the City stands by.

RELATED

Where’s Our Vaccine Mandate, Mayor Kenney?

Vaccines 2.0

Getting Vaccines Right

Moving On From the Trauma

Header Photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash

The Philadelphia Citizen will only publish thoughtful, civil comments. If your post is offensive, not only will we not publish it, we'll laugh at you while hitting delete.

Be a Citizen Editor

Suggest a Story