RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — It seems impossible: How can North Carolina rank first in the country in COVID-19 vaccinations — but dead last in booster shots?

A closer look shows that, no, those numbers from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention don’t add up.

The discrepancy mostly has to do with a data glitch that is responsible for massive gaps in the vaccination numbers tracked by the CDC and the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Here’s where those gaps show up:

— The CDC ranks the state first in vaccinations, saying 95 percent of people 12 and older have received at least the first dose. NCDHHS sets that rate much lower, at 75 percent.

— But the CDC says no state is doing worse than North Carolina in getting booster shots to the fully vaccinated, with just 28 percent of them receiving one. NCDHHS says we’re doing much better — 59 percent of vaccinated people 5 and older have received at least one.

Let’s break these down one at a time.

A closer look at the CDC’s vaccine numbers shows North Carolina is one of 14 states tied for first with 95 percent of those 12 and older getting the first shot.

A disclaimer on the CDC website — which says it caps those rates at 95 percent to account for overestimates and other reporting errors — seems to explain what’s going on with its primary vaccination numbers.

It says the agency tries to link your first, second and booster doses together but that’s not always possible because the information it receives on those doses is not personally identifiable.

“This can lead to overestimates of first doses and underestimates of subsequent doses,” the disclaimer reads.

It’s happening in some other states, too — from Massachusetts to New Mexico — though perhaps not quite to the degree that it is in North Carolina.

It’s also exactly what appears to be happening with the state’s last-place ranking in booster doses.

We told you in February about the problems the recording systems from NCDHHS and the CDC have in talking to each other.

The state’s COVID-19 Vaccine Management System links data from state providers and the federal pharmacy program. That way, if you got your primary vaccine and booster shot through different programs, the state can still keep track of it.

But the CDC can’t make that connection, so its count of doses is much lower.

And in the past six months, the gap between those numbers has gotten bigger — to 2 million shots.

NCDHHS says there have 3.8 million booster doses given in the state. The CDC only counts 1.8 million.

Whose job is it to get this fixed?

And why hasn’t that happened?

NCDHHS spokeswoman Summer Tonizzo said in a statement that “there are not many actions we can take on our end to resolve this problem as it primarily stems from the CDC’s ability to link our data on their end.”

That points the finger at the CDC, and spokesman Scott Pauley called it a “known issue that has not yet been resolved.”

He says the agency has been working with officials in North Carolina and other states to develop a new linking system that would protect privacy and address those issues.

But they don’t know when such an update could be finished.

So if the CDC’s vaccine numbers are too high and the booster numbers are too low, where should North Carolina actually rank?

The 75 percent figure from NCDHHS would put North Carolina at No. 41, just behind Michigan (75.6 percent) and ahead of Montana (74.2 percent).

But the exact opposite would happen with the booster numbers.

The 59 percent booster rate from NCDHHS would place North Carolina third behind only Vermont (63 percent) and Minnesota (60 percent).


CBS 17’s Joedy McCreary has been tracking COVID-19 figures since March 2020, compiling data from federal, state, and local sources to deliver a clear snapshot of what the coronavirus situation looks like now and what it could look like in the future.