A year into the coronavirus pandemic in the United States, we still lack a complete understanding of who is getting sick, and where, and when. Demographic data from many states are astonishingly incomplete, and even widely collected information, such as the age of patients at the time of diagnosis or death, is so inconsistently presented that it has been impossible to assemble into a clear national picture. The federal government is now making more demographic data available, but the information continues to emerge at a snail’s pace.
This has left government outsiders to try to assemble the data—groups like us, the COVID Tracking Project, which is housed at The Atlantic. For more than nine months, we’ve compiled data from states to create a composite national picture of the pandemic. Time and again, we have seen that a lack of federal support has left overburdened state public-health authorities to fend for themselves, resulting in incomplete reporting, incompatible data definitions, and inconsistent data pipelines.
With vaccine data, the United States has the opportunity for a do-over. The national vaccination effort itself is fragmented and inconsistent, guided by state and county policies in the absence of a comprehensive federal system of support—but the data about vaccinations need not mirror this incoherence. Tracking the distribution of vaccines and the pace of vaccination can provide meaningful insights into the volume of future cases, hospitalizations, and deaths. And particularly given the well-established racial and ethnic disparities we see in COVID-19 cases and deaths, we must have access to data that would reveal whether these disparities are being remediated—or intensified—by our national vaccination effort.