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Missouri Says It Overcounted Multiracial People Getting The Coronavirus Vaccine

Kansas City residents line up to receive their second dose of the Moderna vaccine on Monday, March 8, 2021, at the Tony Aguirre Community Center.
Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Residents of Kansas City's west side line up to receive their second dones of the Moderna vaccine on Monday, March 8, 2021 at the Tony Aguirre Community Center.2

It’s unclear when the data will be fixed. The Kansas City Health Department hasn’t published local data because of concerns about its accuracy.

For weeks, Missouri data showed the state was going above and beyond to vaccinate multiracial residents against the coronavirus, suggesting that more than a third had received doses.

However, on Wednesday, new information from the Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services revealed that the earlier data is likely inaccurate because it overcounts multiracial residents.

Though the misleading information was discussed among state and health leaders, it was nevertheless presented by the state in public data. The racial breakdowns are critical to understanding if the COVID-19 vaccine is being equitably distributed to minority communities.

“When you have all these unknowns … why do you put it on a website when you know it’s not true?” Dr. Rex Archer, director of the Kansas City Health Department, told KCUR Monday.

While the state has acknowledged other data problems during weekly virtual meetings, the state’s public dashboard did not previously include a disclaimer. However, the state plans to add a note on Wednesday to clarify the data on multiracial residents, according to Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokeswoman Lisa Cox.

“We thought it would be a quicker fix, but the more conversations we have with providers, the more we find further complexities of the situation,” Cox said in an email.

It’s unclear to what extent the overcounting skews the data.

Around 17,800 Kansas City, Missouri, residents identify as being multiracial, according to 2019 U.S. Census data. The state data shows that 6,672 multiracial Kansas City residents have received at least one vaccine dose. This suggests 37% of multiracial residents have received doses, more than double the vaccination rate of the city’s general population.

“Race data reflect what is reported by the vaccination providers. Due to a known technical issue, vaccinations of multi-race residents are being over-counted. We are working to correct this,” according to a note at the bottom of a Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spreadsheet of Kansas City-area vaccination data sent to KCUR.

State health officials have been discussing suspected problems with the multiracial data for weeks during weekly meetings focused on equity.

It’s unclear what is causing the overcount in the “multiracial” category in Missouri, but in a virtual meeting about vaccine distribution on Feb. 18, Adam Crumbliss, director of the health department’s Division of Community and Public Health, told stakeholders that overcounting in the “multiracial” category was a problem at both the national and state levels.

“At the state level, we have identified some key sizable partners that we can work with that we think we may be able to parse that data a little better or differently to be able to better reflect the reality - the vaccination efforts that we’re making in some of those different populations of color,” Crumbliss said.

County health departments raised questions in February about a lack of access to local data on vaccination rates by race. The Kansas City Health Department hasn't published local data on vaccinations by race because of concerns that it wasn’t accurate.

Dr. Archer said Monday that the city identified problems that were believed to result from vaccinators entering racial and ethnic data incorrectly.

“We basically can’t trust the numbers going in by the different providers that are vaccinating,” Archer told KCUR.

Cox said the issue appeared to be related to problems in the data reported by vaccinators, which shows a higher number of “individuals reported with more than one race” than what the state expects.

The providers enter demographic information into the ShowMeVax system, which was created by Envision Technology Partners, a Colorado-based company. CEO Steve Murchie said in an email that he’s “still trying to get some context from Missouri,” but he doesn’t believe a technical issue is causing the problem.

“We are still investigating the issue with multiple providers. It’s not a quick, simple fix,” Cox said in an email.

Cox did not answer KCUR questions about when the state first realized the data may be inaccurate.

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.
Aviva Okeson-Haberman was the Missouri government and politics reporter at KCUR 89.3.
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