Federal health agencies need to be more transparent about critical Covid-19 data, particularly on race and ethnicity and infections at nursing homes, the Government Accountability Office said Wednesday.
The watchdog recommended those steps as part of its call for a sweeping overhaul of federal data on Covid-19, based on its probe of efforts to collect and analyze pandemic statistics across agencies.
GAO wants the Department of Health and Human Services to create a centralized website for Covid-19 data from the CDC and other federal sources. The CDC has focused on tracking Covid-19 cases and deaths, along with vaccine distribution and equity efforts; HHS has led on tracking testing, hospitalization trends and other key supplies like personal protective equipment.
A centralized location for Covid-19 data “could improve the federal government’s communication with the public" about the ongoing pandemic, the GAO said.
The agency also highlighted gaps in Covid-19 statistics. Almost half of states’ data on Covid-19 vaccinations are missing patients’ race and ethnicity information, the GAO said in a report based on its probe of efforts to collect and analyze pandemic statistics across agencies. That has made it difficult to assess how well vaccination campaigns are reaching Black, Latino and Native American people who are at increased risk of severe illness, hospitalization and death from the virus.
The watchdog also said the government should collect data on nursing home vaccination rates and make it publicly available in a bid to boost transparency and improve immunization efforts at such facilities. GAO said HHS should require nursing homes to offer Covid-19 shots to residents and staff and design quality measures tied to vaccination rates.
Three senior administration officials familiar with the GAO investigation told POLITICO in February that the watchdog had raised concerns about a lack of coordination on key pandemic data.
The GAO probe had already stoked fears among officials at HHS and CDC, some of whom said in February that they worried about losing control of crucial data or reduced quality because of the effort it would take to stitch together disparate sources of information about vaccine distribution and equity, variants’ spread and life expectancy with the virus.
The latest report is part of nearly yearlong effort by GAO to track the federal pandemic response after a directive in the March 2020 CARES Act. The watchdog first called on CDC to “completely and consistently collect demographic data” including comprehensive results on long-term health outcomes across race and ethnicity, in September. It later criticized the government’s lack of “consistent and complete COVID-19 data” in a January report.
The CDC’s vaccine tracker, meant to show how many shots have been allotted and administered throughout the country, has been a sore spot for governors and state health officials. State leaders argue that there are data lags on the public site, making it appear that they are hoarding critical vaccine doses.
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