Are Philly’s vaccination statistics really as high as reported?
Since the Covid-19 pandemic reached Philadelphia, the city has been educating the public about the viral reality we face through regular, sometimes daily, press briefings. Once the Biden administration began distributing the vaccines the Trump administration helped develop, the rate of vaccinated Philadelphians became a central part of that information.
Today, the city claims that more than 95% of all residents (adults, that’s important) have received a dose of life-saving vaccines. It’s a big number. But how accurate is it?
First, the good news: Philadelphia quite possibly has one of the highest vaccination rates in the nation — a credit to health care workers and those in the Department of Health who have worked non-stop for two straight years. , now moving on to a third.
Now the meh news: That 95% figure? It’s not exactly rock solid and is entirely dependent on a leap of faith – a leap of faith by 147,950 people, to be exact, and that depends on the integrity of state data.
Now the meh news: That 95% figure? It’s not exactly rock solid and is entirely dependent on a leap of faith – a leap of faith by 147,950 people, to be exact, and that depends on the integrity of state data. The problem there? The state has a history of double counting and other issues with its Covid-19 data.
We also cannot compare easily to other cities, as other localities have different data collection tools and processes. We are certain that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has already claimed a similar dose rate of 95% for adults at least one for the entire state of Pennsylvania.
Of course, that number was debunked by the Inquirer in November.
Within the limits of Philadelphia, however, there is a data collection process that should make us proud, even if that vaunted 95% figure is a bit suspect.
The process uses a list of names, the gold standard in analyzing this stuff. It goes like this: first the vaccine providers create a health record which they then report to the Department of Health for that list of names. It includes information about each recipient, including their name, demographics, and brand of vaccine (important because the single Johnson & Johnson injection is considered both the first and second dose for data collection purposes) .) This registration submission takes 24 hours for most providers. , but can, in rare cases, take up to a week.
Then, after receiving the record, the Health Department checks PhilaVax, the city’s central vaccine database. Initially (before the pandemic), PhilaVax was used almost exclusively to ensure children’s compliance with school vaccine requirements. The city has retrofitted Covid-19 vaccines on this system. This means that many adults do not have an existing file in PhilaVax to begin with, so the Department of Health creates them. (If they have a PhilaVax file, the new record is added to existing logs.)
After that, each weekday, epidemiologists pull reports from PhilaVax regarding demographics as well as location-based and citywide reports, update the city’s Covid-19 dashboard, and prepare public briefings. That’s when this vaccine record starts to show up in public reporting, not by name, but now as one of many numbers that make up the overall figure.
At this point, according to the Department of Health, the only verifiable figure is 83%, which is still excellent – although it is well below that “above 95%” that the city boasts and a figure on which the tourist offices rely. at the market future delegates and visitors.
Here’s where most of those numbers come from that you hear at these press briefings and in news articles. In an anecdotal quality control test, I searched myself asking for a copy of my digital vaccination record and found that my three vaccinations were accurately recorded.
But that process itself only gets us to about 83% of adults, not 95%. So enter into this leap of faith of 147,950 people.
The city is using state data it has yet to verify to jump from 83% to over 95%.
Eventually, the City will integrate the State’s data with its own. Philadelphians vaccinating in other Pennsylvania counties, which occurred mostly early last spring, are included in this dataset. Currently, looking at state data, the city only knows that one Philadelphia resident received a vaccine. They don’t know who. And they don’t know if they’re on the state list two, three, or four times — or already on the city’s list.
To understand this better, stop thinking about doses in chronological order and instead look at them cumulatively.
For example, if Richardson Dilworth received an injection in Philadelphia, an injection in Montgomery County, and a booster in Philadelphia, he would appear once on at least one city dose list, once on the state dose list, and , after 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 error on their end, he is counted twice in the city’s estimates. Add that estimate to his existing dose record in Philadelphia and one man does the job of three to get us to 95%.
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We have no idea how often reporting errors like the Dilworth example have occurred, but the possibility – along with widespread double counting – seriously calls into question that 95% rate the city is currently putting at the top of his press briefings.
The Inquirer reports that the state system has been known to double up on first doses in particular. Even the city’s health department itself said state data isn’t something we can rely on in this report.
What sort of introduction to the question: Why do we even say 95% in the first place?
Well, that’s impressive. Is not it?.
At this point, according to the Department of Health, the only verifiable figure is 83%, which is still excellent – although it is well below that “above 95%” that the city boasts and a figure on which tourist offices rely on to market. – to be delegates and visitors.
And the 83% figure corresponds to a specific group of Philadelphians: city workers. The city government has repeatedly had to extend the deadline for vaccinating city workers as it still feuds with its police and fire unions. The total number of City employees adhering to the mandate at the moment? Around 81%, which is not too far from the 83% figure in this analysis.
Am I just quibbling over trivia? 83, 95, tomato, tomahto, right? Well, trust in institutions is at an all time low. People have a hard time believing the government in general. After years of this scourge, everyone is looking for an excuse to get back to normal, unaware that this is normal now.
Are City workers much more resistant to science than their neighbors? Or are they reflective? In other words, does the vaccination rate sample of 24,000 city workers not work vs the idea that the city is more than 95%?
But does that even count? Am I just quibbling over trivia? 83, 95, tomato, tomahto, right?
Well, trust in institutions is at an all time low. People have a hard time believing the government in general. And, distressingly, after literally years of this scourge, everyone is looking for an excuse to get back to normal, unaware that it is normal now.
It is this return to a bygone normal that is causing 2,000 deaths a day across the country thanks to the hyper-contagious variant of omicron. There’s also the idea that we shouldn’t provide false or morally misleading information, especially when trying to convince people to visit Philadelphia because it’s “so safe and highly immunized.”
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The rate of adults in Philadelphia having received at least one dose is indeed higher than 83%. But where exactly it actually is is impossible to know until the state’s data is integrated with the city’s and cleaned up.
Rather than providing optimistic estimates dependent on a known, unreliable source that will likely be revised downward, further eroding confidence in City Hall, they could instead provide the verifiable totals and say that these are likely of an undercount.
Anything other than that plays fast and loose with the facts in favor of the City – and not necessarily in the public interest.
Also, over 95% — it was actually claimed to be as high as 98% here in Philadelphia until the CDC advised against going over 95% to account for variations in the US Census — seems a little funny.
In other words, at least six percent of Americans think the moon landing was a hoax. Are you telling me there are more people who believe the Apollo landing was filmed in the studio than those who didn’t get their first shot?
Likely, maybe. But it seems a bit out of this world.
UPDATE 5:25 p.m.: After publishing this article, the Department of Health informed the Philadelphia Citizen that the integration of state data expected in several weeks or months has just happened. Analyzing the data, the Department of Health says that although duplicates occurred throughout the list, they were concentrated almost exclusively among those under 18. They add that the list of adults, contrary to the agency’s previous statements both in other publications for at least the past year and during this report, was accurate and therefore essentially identical to their estimates. Therefore, the figure above 95% is something the City supports.
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Header photo by Jakayla Toney on Unsplash