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Coronavirus

Missouri Says It Overcounted Multiracial People Getting The Coronavirus Vaccine

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

For weeks, Missouri data showed the state was vaccinating large numbers of 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 residents who identify as being of two or more races.

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, said Chris Prener, a sociology professor at St. Louis University.

“This is a really important thing … making sure that communities that have borne a significant brunt of illness and mortality are also getting access to this lifesaving intervention,” said Prener, who has been studying coronavirus data for the past year.

While state health officials acknowledged other data problems during weekly virtual meetings, the state’s public dashboard only recently showed a disclaimer explaining the data on multiracial residents was incorrect.

“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," Missouri Department of Health and Senior Services spokesperson Lisa Cox said in an email.

State officials can’t say to what extent the overcounting skews the data.

About 45,000 Missouri residents of the St. Louis region identify as being multiracial, according to 2019 U.S. Census data.

The state data shows that 66,000 multiracial residents in Missouri have received at least one vaccine dose. This suggests 39% of the state’s multiracial residents have received doses, more than double the vaccination rate of all state residents (18%) and of residents in seven Missouri counties in the St. Louis region (16%).

The state relies on information from vaccine providers and is working to get the correct figure, the online disclaimer states.

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.

It’s unclear how vaccinators are collecting demographic data — or if they are collecting data on race at all, Prener said.

“We may find that some providers are using multiracial as a catchall instead of asking people how to identify,” he said. “There’s questions about process. How are these categories being applied to people?"

Nearly one-fourth of reported vaccinations don’t indicate race or ethnicity at all, Prener said.

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

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