Gov. Doug Ducey and the state health department’s lack of transparency on the Covid vaccine administration has led to an unintentional spread of misinformation, and underscores a bigger issue the public has seen throughout the pandemic.
Three weeks into the Covid vaccine administration, the Arizona Department of Health Services still has not set up a dashboard to access the information of how many vaccinations have been given.
As of January 4, the only resources available to get any information was from NBC News, Bloomberg and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but none of them had the most up-to-date number of vaccines given out or any further information, according to the state health department.
The Governor’s Office said the Department of Health Services would be sending out tweets with a mock dashboard containing that information until they can successfully add a tab to the Covid dashboard.
The first update showed 90,880 vaccines administered through January 3, which is still far short of the at least 314,000 doses the state received before the end of 2020. Through Jan. 6, 113,993 in Arizona have received the Covid vaccine. The CDC estimates Arizona has received more than 420,000 doses to date, but the Arizona Department of Health Services would not confirm the number. The health department originally had 119,653 as the number, but noted it overcounted due to “duplicate reports found when merging the real-time data reported into our system.”
As for why no dashboard exists yet, Ducey’s office said the state doesn’t administer vaccines so all the information has to come from the counties, adding that there were some reporting errors and inconsistencies with what they were getting.
The state has known about vaccine distribution since early-November and has internal data it has been relying on in the meantime, but still didn’t publish anything until members of the media and general public began to ask questions.
Daniel Ruiz, chief operating officer for the state of Arizona, tweeted that a dashboard would be available as soon as possible, but would not specify when that would be. Steve Elliott, the Department of Health Services communications director, also would not specify when the dashboard would be available. Elliot said in an email the department has “all of the data and internal presentations needed to administer vaccine distribution at the state level” and that the dashboard would be available in coming days.
Meanwhile, the only public information available from NBC News had data that was days behind what Arizona’s vaccine situation is currently. It had Arizona around 59,000 vaccines administered as of January 4, whereas Elliott said it was at 90,880 through January 3.
Bloomberg, on the other hand, had the number as high as 80,000 and was the link used by Ruiz, Ducey’s COO, on Twitter to combat inadvertent misinformation from spreading. The CDC had the same information as NBC News.
All three sources have now caught up to the accurate state number except for one discrepancy.
The state appears to use an outdated number for Arizona’s population, which in turn slightly inflates how many vaccines per 100,000 people have been administered. By using simple math based on the state’s vaccine figures, the equation uses 7,189,873 as the overall population. Most recent numbers from 2019 show Arizona population as 7,278,284. This is the number the CDC uses for all Arizona Covid information to determine vaccines per 100,000 people as well as cases per capita.
It’s unclear why the state health department uses that outdated number as they would not comment on that question — and during a media availability to watch Dr. Cara Christ, DHS director, receive her second Pfizer vaccine dose, she refused to take any questions.
The state’s vaccine rate is shown at 1,586, whereas the CDC has Arizona around 1,566. It’s a rather negligible difference, but still confusing as to why.
Local and national reporters, as well as everyday people, tweeted the outdated information as fact on January 4 after NBC published its map of each state and how many vaccines were administered. The number showed Arizona as the fifth worst state per 100,000 people and Ducey’s office pushed back calling the information “inaccurate.”
That was true – the information was not up-to-date, but the big discrepancy here is that the information was nowhere to be found on the state’s database or websites so it would have been impossible to know the correct number without seeking it out.
DHS did send a press release out on January 1 updating that at least 80,000 people had received the first vaccine dose, which is still far fewer than the number of vaccines sitting in Arizona freezers to date, but larger than the number NBC reported. However, neither the health department nor the Governor’s Office shared that information publicly for all to see — only to those subscribed to the press list.
Arizona received more than 314,000 doses and has been slow to get them into arms, which they excused as a lack of places to receive the shot, among other reasons. Phoenix New Times dug into the slow vaccine administration explaining that there were computer glitches that affected the rollout. New Times obtained the information in a letter Maricopa County officials sent to DHS Director Christ.
The lack of transparency for this information mirrors problems that occurred early on in the pandemic when the state set up the first edition of the Covid dashboard.
The state health department got caught up in a legal battle over not providing information about Covid in long-term care facilities, and has been reluctant to provide information on Covid in schools and even changed the school benchmarks without alerting anybody to the update.
Capitol Times also recently discovered the state health department’s dashboard includes a misleading number for new tests reported every day. The real daily test number is a few clicks away.
Elliott said, “The default view for tests added is for individuals getting tested for the first time. You can switch view to see total tests, including individuals getting re-tested.”