CDC Takes Flak After Report on Unpublished COVID Data

'New York Times' reveals agency has made public only a 'tiny fraction' of its info
By John Johnson,  Newser Staff
Posted Feb 21, 2022 11:17 AM CST
CDC Takes Flak After Report on Unpublished COVID Data
A dose of a COVID-19 vaccine is prepared at Lurie Children's Hospital in Chicago.   (AP Photo/Nam Y. Huh, File)

The New York Times is out with a story that provides new ammunition to critics of the CDC. The gist, as reported by Apoorva Mandavilli, is that the agency has collected reams and reams of COVID data since the pandemic began but has made public only a "tiny fraction" of it. Why? A big part of the reason is that the agency is concerned that releasing it in full would result in it being misinterpreted. But as Mandavilli writes, "much of the withheld information could help state and local health officials better target their efforts to bring the virus under control." Outside experts have in some cases relied on data from Israel instead.

A CDC spokeswoman says the agency must ensure that any data released is "accurate and actionable," though critics aren't satisfied with that. "We are at a much greater risk of misinterpreting the data with data vacuums, than sharing the data with proper science, communication, and caveats," says Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist who helped run the independent COVID Tracking Project. The story reports that she's among outside experts "stunned" to learn that the CDC has kept such volumes of data under wraps.

Another factor is that the pandemic has shown that the agency's data systems weren't equipped to handle so much data and disseminate it quickly. "We're working on that," says the CDC spokeswoman, and the story notes that the agency has received $1 billion to modernize its systems. The story is generating criticism of the CDC, particularly on the right. The site Townhall, for instance, calls it an "eye-popping admission." And this sentiment in the Steve Kirsch newsletter is a common one turning up in reaction: "Let's be clear. The CDC hid the data because the data proves they were lying to us. That's the real reason." For the record, the MIT Technology Review previously described Kirsch, a tech entrepreneur, as a "misinformation superspreader." (More COVID-19 stories.)

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