Fact-checking the 300K gap between CDC, state vaccine numbers

Coronavirus

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — The federal count of fully vaccinated North Carolinians is more than 300,000 short of the number state public health officials have reported.

North Carolina was one of more than a dozen states called out in recent media reports for not fully vaccinating at least half of their residents — even as the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services says the rate is well over 50 percent.

A closer look shows just how wide the gap is between the vaccination numbers reported by NCDHHS and by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to CDC numbers updated Tuesday, 49.6 percent of the state’s 10.4 million residents are fully vaccinated for a total of 5,200,642 people. Those numbers show 15 other states where fewer than half of their residents are fully vaccinated.

But even before NCDHHS updated its numbers Tuesday, those from Monday showed 5,537,252 full vaccinations — including 5.1 million people who got two doses, and more than 415,000 people who received the single-shot Johnson & Johnson vaccine.

It leaves a difference of 336,610 — and means they’re off by 6 percent.

That a lag exists is not a surprise. 

But why is it so large?

CDC spokeswoman Chandra Zeikel, in an email, answered the obvious question first: The states do, in fact, have the most updated information.

Delays are possible — and common — throughout the reporting process.

Healthcare providers are supposed to report the doses they’ve given to their local jurisdiction within 72 hours but “there may be additional time required for data to then be transmitted from jurisdictions to CDC.”

“During that time, a difference between the number of doses reported to CDC and the number of doses actually administered by a jurisdiction is expected,” she said.

There’s also a question of location. Zeikel says the CDC attributes those figures to the jurisdiction where those people live. 

The NCDHHS breakdown by county shows about 183,000 fully vaccinated people who are not classified by county. Roughly 80,000 live out of state and that information was missing for another 103,000.

That brings the total of fully vaccinated North Carolinians for whom their county of residence is known to 5.35 million — but even that number is still more than half, at 51 percent of the state’s population.

The bottom line: Those lags of varying length in the reporting chain make it difficult to make comparisons, she said.

“The data may not be directly comparable between the local and national levels because they may be reflecting data from slightly different time frames,” she said.

“It’s important to know that the vaccine administration process is complex and requires strong cooperation and partnership with all parties at the jurisdictional, local, and federal levels,” she added.

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