An Independent reader who has been closely following news of the Covid-19 pandemic pointed out a strange fact some weeks ago: the federal Centers for Disease Control’s Covid Data Tracker was reporting that only 4.1 percent of the total population of Barnstable County had been fully vaccinated. The percentage of county residents age 65 and over who were fully vaccinated was 5.8, according to the CDC.
I had also heard this from Paul Benson, our reporter who has kept us informed about efforts to combat the spread of the virus. Those numbers are “garbage,” said Benson. The Mass. Dept. of Public Health puts out an accurate weekly report on vaccination rates. The June 3 report has Barnstable County at 72 percent with at least one dose of the vaccine, and 62 percent fully vaccinated.
I was reminded of this anomaly last week when an article appeared in an online publication that I respect, the Daily Yonder, titled “Outer Cape Cod Vaccination Efforts Focus on Vulnerable Groups and Making a Safer Tourist Season.” The article described efforts by local health officials to reach the homebound and others who needed help to navigate the vaccination system. That all sounded good. Then the piece reported: “Despite these efforts, Barnstable County’s overall vaccination rate is low, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Only 4% of the county’s population is fully vaccinated.”
I called up Tim Marema, the editor of the Daily Yonder, who’s in Norris, Tenn., and connected him to Paul Benson and the real numbers. “This is amazing,” he said. He pointed out that both the New York Times and the Washington Post relied on the CDC data, and both newspapers were reporting the same absurd 4-percent figure for Barnstable County.
“The CDC is a hard nut to crack,” said Marema. “You have to submit questions in writing via the press office. I will send a note to a couple people who focus on rural issues, but they don’t break radio silence very often. All the national reporting on how things are going for vaccinations in small counties is based on that data. And when the data confirms what people already think (that rural places aren’t getting vaccinated), then the reporters don’t have a lot of incentive to look more deeply.”
Paul also found that the CDC numbers for Martha’s Vineyard and Nantucket are wildly wrong (they report only 471 people vaccinated on the Vineyard, when the real number is about 15,000), but for rural Western Mass. they are much better. We haven’t been able to figure out the source of the errors yet.
We wish it were easier to get hold of somebody over at the CDC, or at the U.S. Postal Service for that matter, to let them know what’s happening in far-off places like Outer Cape Cod. In the meantime, it’s comforting to know there are other editors in other small towns who care about getting the details right.