The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is being called out for not sharing the vast quantities of data it had been gathering during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Some medical experts are speculating that the reason why is the fear the data will be “misinterpreted” and used as justification not to follow the agency’s guidelines regarding vaccination and other matters.
“Tell the truth, present the data,” said Dr. Paul Offit, a vaccine expert and adviser to the Food and Drug Administration, The New York Times reported.
“I have to believe that there is a way to explain these things, so people can understand it.”
Jessica Malaty Rivera, an epidemiologist and part of the team that ran Covid Tracking Project, concurred.
“We are at a much greater risk of misinterpreting the data with data vacuums, than sharing the data with proper science, communication and caveats,” she said.
According to the Times, now a full two years into the pandemic, the CDC “has published only a tiny fraction of the data it has collected, several people familiar with the data said.”
Kristen Nordlund, a spokeswoman for the CDC, told the news outlet the reason much of the data has been withheld is “because basically, at the end of the day, it’s not yet ready for prime time.”
Bureaucracy is another reason.
The CDC is weighed down by multiple layers of bureaucracy, including a requirement to first run information to be released through the Department Health and Human Services and the White House.
“The CDC is a political organization as much as it is a public health organization,” said Samuel Scarpino, managing director of pathogen surveillance at the Rockefeller Foundation’s Pandemic Prevention Institute, the Times reported.
“The steps that it takes to get something like this [covid data] released are often well outside of the control of many of the scientists that work at the CDC.”
Dr. Marty Makary, a professor and researcher at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine, tweeted he and others in the field have been criticizing the CDC for its slowness to share COVID data.
“We’ve been saying this for over a year, but when the NYT discovers what’s happening, then some start to pay attention,” Makary tweeted.
— Marty Makary MD, MPH (@MartyMakary) February 21, 2022
Makary’s tweet came in response to one by Dr. Vinay Prasad, an epidemiology professor at the University of California, San Francisco, who shared the Times story.
“All I know is: if you read the studies they are publishing, the reason they aren’t sharing this data is absolutely not that they want to get the analysis right,” Prasad tweeted.
Similarly, Dr. Nicole Saphier — a New York-based surgeon, who has treated COVID patients — posted on Twitter, “People who have blindly trusted the CDC the last 2 years are about to have their world turned upside down as the lack of transparency and manipulation of data become undeniably evident.”
People who have blindly trusted the CDC the last 2 years are about to have their world turned upside down as the lack of transparency and manipulation of data become undeniably evident.
— Nicole Saphier, MD (@NBSaphierMD) February 20, 2022
Dr. Yvonne Maldonado, chair of the American Academy of Pediatrics’s Committee on Infectious Diseases, voiced frustration over the CDC not sharing data about how long people are contagious after first manifesting symptoms.
Maldonado finally learned the answer to her question from a Times story in December.
“They’ve known this for over a year and a half, right, and they haven’t told us,” she said, referring to the CDC. “I mean, you can’t find out anything from them.”
The Times further highlighted that the CDC only released data regarding the efficacy of vaccine booster shots for those younger than 65 just two weeks ago, though “it left out the numbers for a huge portion of that population: 18- to 49-year-olds, the group least likely to benefit from extra shots, because the first two doses already left them well-protected.”
“For most of last year, many of us called for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to release its data on reinfection rates, but the agency refused,” he wrote.
“Finally last week, the CDC released data from New York and California, which demonstrated natural immunity was 2.8 times as effective in preventing hospitalization and 3.3 to 4.7 times as effective in preventing Covid infection compared with vaccination,” he continued.
Makary further noted the National Institutes of Health resisted acknowledging natural immunity.
“Because of the NIH’s inaction, my Johns Hopkins colleagues and I conducted the study. We found that among 295 unvaccinated people who previously had Covid, antibodies were present in 99 percent of them up to nearly two years after infection,” he wrote.
Makary argued the failure of the CDC to release the data sooner meant many who had previously recovered from COVID and had better immunity than those were just vaccinated needlessly lost their jobs.
He concluded that they should be hired back.
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