The leading public health agency in the US has confirmed that it is withholding large amounts of Covid data, including information on vaccine boosters, because it fears the information might be misinterpreted.
An investigation by the New York Times quoted a Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) spokeswoman as saying that the slow release of data was because “basically, at the end of the day, it’s not yet ready for prime time.”
“But another reason is that the data could be misinterpreted by the public,” the paper reports Kristen Nordlund admitting, among other things, just last month, when releasing data on the effectiveness of boosters for adults younger than 65 two weeks ago, the CDC did not include full numbers for those between 18 and 49.
That data, the New York Times said, showed the booster shots of the vaccines were least likely to benefit younger adults because the vaccine had already left them well protected.
The CDC has previously been criticised for not tracking breakthrough Covid-19 infections in vaccinated Americans. “The agency presented that information as risk comparisons with unvaccinated adults, rather than provide timely snapshots of hospitalized patients stratified by age, sex, race and vaccination status,” the paper said.
Public health experts interviewed said that they were “stunned” to hear that the CDC had the data, as they had been “begging for that sort of granularity of data for two years”.
They said the fear of misinterpretation was not an acceptable reason for withholding it.
“We are at a much greater risk of misinterpreting the data with data vacuums, than sharing the data with proper science, communication and caveats,” one lead told the New York Times.
Information on hospitalizations and death by age and vaccination status was also withheld for the same reason, as the CDC feared people would believe that the vaccines were ‘powerless’ against new strains.
But experts said that the withheld information could have been used to help health officials better identify populations at highest risk – and would have helped inform experts as to whether healthy adults need booster shots against Covid-19.
“Tell the truth, present the data,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert and adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, told the New York Times. “I have to believe that there is a way to explain these things so people can understand it.”
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Committee on Infectious Diseases told the paper that it has been difficult to find CDC data on the proportion of children hospitalized for Covid who have other medical conditions.