Editor’s Note: On Oct. 15, the Sun published an investigation, “How reliable is vaccination data for Sierra County?” which explored the reasons for discrepancies between state and federal reporting on the number of fully vaccinated county residents and the vaccination rate for the county. Dissatisfied with the inability of the Center for Disease Control and the New Mexico Department of Health to explain how these discrepancies occurred, reporter Debora Nicoll continued to examine the data and ultimately discerned the cause. When presented with Nicoll’s finding, the Department of Health confirmed its accuracy and said that the vaccination data presented on the CDC’s online COVID-19 data tracker for Sierra County and indeed for every county in New Mexico would be corrected as of today, Oct. 27.
The Sun reported in our Oct. 15 story that the number of fully vaccinated Sierra County residents age 18 or older recorded by the New Mexico Department of Health’s online COVID-19 dashboard was higher than the comparable data presented by the Center for Disease Control on its online COVID-19 data tracker. The DOH said that, as of Oct. 12, 6,233 individuals had been fully vaccinated here, while the CDC reported the figure of 4,876. The discrepancy was 1,357, a significant number for a county whose population is around 10,000
Conducting a further investigation, the Sun has determined that the difference in the reporting agencies’ statistics is the result of incomplete data transmission from the NMDOH to the CDC for the month of January 2021.
The Sun received vaccination data from the NMDOH and the CDC for Sierra County and noted the NMDOH began reporting out the number of vaccinated individuals on Jan. 5, while the CDC did not begin reporting out until Feb 25. By that date, the NMDOH was reporting there were 1,387 vaccinated individuals in Sierra County, while the CDC reported only 51. This difference between the two agencies’ data remained constant throughout the year.
The Sun asked David Morgan, NMDOH’s media and social manager, whether the data collected for Sierra County before Feb. 25 had been communicated to the CDC. Morgan said that the data had been transmitted, but that it did not originally include a breakdown by county, which meant that the CDC could not report disaggregated statistics for any New Mexico county for the month of January.
According to Morgan, the NMDOH recently implemented a new “edit/delete” feature, which allowed it to upload county identification into its old vaccination records. That update, which the NMDOH just sent to the CDC, means that the federal agency will now have accurate numbers of vaccinations for every county in the state. The data “should be corrected on the CDC tomorrow AM,” Morgan emailed the Sun yesterday.
Indeed, today’s report from the CDC states that 6,260 Sierra Countians age 18 and older are fully vaccinated, while the NMDOH states that number is 6,272. The difference is most likely due to the 48-hour lag time the CDC needs to verify state data.