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Messy, Incomplete U.S. Data Hobbles Pandemic Response


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The U.S. Capitol dome reflected in the window of a medical vehicle.

We are flying blind, said Ali Mokdad, an epidemiologist at the University of Washingtons Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation who spent two decades working for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Credit: Jabin Botsford/The Washington Post

The contentious and confusing debate in recent weeks over coronavirus booster shots has exposed a fundamental weakness in the United States' ability to respond to a public health crisis: The data is a mess.

How many people have been infected at this point? No one knows for sure, in part because of insufficient testing and incomplete reporting. How many fully vaccinated people have had breakthrough infections? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention decided to track only a fraction of them. When do inoculated people need booster shots? American officials trying to answer that have had to rely heavily on data from abroad.

Critically important data on vaccinations, infections, hospitalizations and deaths is scattered among local health departments, is often out of date and hard to aggregate at the national level, and it is simply inadequate for the job of battling a highly transmissible and stealthy pathogen.

From The Washington Post
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