Updated Dec 18, 2021 - Health

Report: CDC overcounts millions of vaccinations

Photo: Joe Raedle/Getty Images

The U.S. government has overcounted the number of Americans who are at least partly vaccinated against the coronavirus, Bloomberg reports.

Why it matters: Millions more people than initially thought are unprotected as coronavirus infections, hospitalizations and deaths are rising across the country.

The big picture: Data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention was revised last weekend for the number of people 65 and older who have received at least one shot, according to Bloomberg.

  • The CDC lowered the percentage vaccinated from 99.9%, where it had been for weeks, to 95%, without changing the raw shot totals.
  • The agency has not returned Axios' request for comment.

What it means: The change in data indicates that the U.S. has counted too many shots as first doses when they are instead second doses or booster shots.

By the numbers: CDC data indicated that 240 million people — or about 72.5% of the population — had at least one shot and that 203 million — 61.3% — were fully vaccinated.

  • But state and local officials reported that it was improbable for there to be such a huge disparity in vaccination numbers, Bloomberg reports.

The state of play: Three states — Illinois, Pennsylvania and West Virginia — found enough over-counting of first shots to indicate millions of unvaccinated people had mistakenly been counted as having received a dose.

  • Pennsylvania had one of the biggest gaps identified, according to Bloomberg, where the CDC's estimates of first doses for people 65 and older exceeded state estimates by about 850,000.
  • Illinois had more than 500,000 completely unvaccinated people ages 12 and up than initially thought. But the audit also found 730,000 people who were fully vaccinated and hadn’t been counted.

What they're saying: James Garrow, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health, which has worked with the state to blend data sets for a more accurate view of vaccination trends, said "we don’t have any faith in the numbers on the CDC website, and we never refer to them."

  • “Where it has really made it difficult for us is targeting our booster messaging,” Garrow added.
  • “The truth is, we have no idea,” said Clay Marsh, West Virginia’s COVID czar.

But, but, but: The miscount means more Americans have received booster shots than shown in official federal data, Bloomberg writes.

What's next: Other states, including Minnesota, Colorado, New Jersey, North Carolina and Maine, have already submitted requests for revisions to the CDC for different reasons.

Editor's note: This is a developing story and has been updated throughout.

Go deeper