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Kansas City Leaders Blast State Racial And Ethnic Data On COVID Shots As Inadequate

Anthony Guerra, 64, and John Garcia, 69, chat while waiting for their second dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Tony Aguirre Community Center on Monday. They were one of many west side Kansas Citians targeted by Truman Medical Centers to receive the vaccination in the Hispanic community.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Anthony Guerra, 64, and John Garcia, 69, chat while waiting for their second dose of the Moderna vaccine at the Tony Aguirre Community Center on Monday. They were among many members of the Hispanic community on the West Side of Kansas City targeted by Truman Medical Centers to receive the vaccination.

Racial data on COVID-19 vaccinations provided to media outlets by Missouri lacked dates or definitions to indicate what the numbers meant.

Health experts have persistently warned that Black and Latino communities risk being left behind on COVID-19 vaccinations and that collecting racial and ethnic data on who’s getting shots is necessary to ensure they are being distributed equitably.

But Kansas City health officials say the data presented by the state of Missouri on who’s getting doses is too incomplete to inform the public or guide vaccination efforts.

Kansas City Councilwoman Melissa Robinson, who serves as executive director of the Black Health Care Coalition, says the lack of complete and accurate data is “extremely troubling” and threatens to undermine the COVID-19 fight.

“It’s actually maddening and extremely frustrating that this isn’t a transparent process, and we’re left here piecing together information when all we’re trying to do is to preserve human life,” Robinson told KCUR.

For months, Missouri has appeared to provide a high level of data, broken down by race and ethnicity, on the percentages of residents who have received vaccines. The data, which appear on the state's website, show that nearly 14% of white Missourians have been vaccinated compared with just 5.4% of Black and 3.2% of Asian residents.

But Kansas City has chosen not to present the information on local vaccinations because it turns out it is full of gaps.

“When you have all these unknowns, when you have suspicion that the data is even being reported accurately, why do you put it on a website when you know it’s not true?” said Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department.

Archer said several aspects of the data betrayed its unreliability.

Ethnicity data, which identifies whether someone is Hispanic, is provided for less than 17% of people who received shots. And the data show that nearly a third of “multiracial” Missourians have received shots, far higher than any other group, suggesting that many people may be misidentified as part of this category.

Racial data, meanwhile, is missing for about a quarter of the more than 1 million Missouri residents who have received shots.

The data KCUR obtained from Missouri’s Department of Health and Senior Services for Jackson County also was incomplete and unlabeled.

The data lacked dates, included two separate rows for “unknown” race, and had an additional “Other Race” category. The tables did not make clear whether the numbers referred to vaccine doses or to the total number of people vaccinated.

“You can see there’s some real problems,” Archer said after reviewing the data sent to KCUR.

Missouri health department spokeswoman Lisa Cox did not respond to questions regarding the data and did not provide requested data for Cass, Clay and Platte counties.

In an email she said that the health department’s data team was "working to make this info more available.”

The Jackson County data was provided to Kansas City television station KCTV5, which reported on the numbers in a story last week.

The Show Me Vax system, which the state is using to gather COVID-19 vaccination data, was originally designed to fulfill national requirements for influenza vaccine reporting.

Flu vaccination reporting generally does not require racial and ethnic data, and many COVID vaccinators are not familiar with it, so the system is not well-suited to gathering this info, Archer said.

Many communities in Kansas City, Jackson County and Cass County are particularly susceptible to COVID-19 due to high rates of poverty and underlying medical conditions, according to a Deloitte Consulting report commissioned by the state.

Yet Jackson County has the second highest number of vaccine-eligible residents in the state who have yet to receive vaccinations.

While 16.4% of Missouri’s population has received at least one vaccine dose, just 14.3% of Kansas City residents have gotten shots, and the percentages are even lower in metro area counties.

State data also show that the Kansas City region has received only 20% of the state’s vaccine supply, despite being home to 23% of the state’s residents.

The state health department announced last week that Missouri would shift to a vaccine distribution method based on the number of eligible people who have not received vaccines.

Robinson, the Kansas City Councilwoman, said that while the change is welcome, it may do little to address disparities unless the strategy is guided by solid demographic information.

“If we’re going to administer that supply equitably, if we’re going to ensure that we’re doing it in a way that we’re not wasting vaccine, you gotta have the data," she said. "Otherwise, you’re flying blindly.”

As a health care reporter, I aim to empower my audience to take steps to improve health care and make informed decisions as consumers and voters. I tell human stories augmented with research and data to explain how our health care system works and sometimes fails us. Email me at alexs@kcur.org.
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