NCDHHS hasn’t updated its census tract vaccine map in 3 months. Why?

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — A mapping tool that state leaders credit for massive increases in vaccination rates for dozens of communities has not been updated in three months.

State Department of Health and Human Resources spokeswoman Bailey Pennington told CBS 17 that updates have been delayed because of “efforts to verify information and remove duplicate records,” but that an update is expected later this week.

A screenshot of the NCDHHS Vaccines by Census Tract map taken Wednesday afternoon, showing June 1 as the date of its most recent update.

The map was last updated June 1. It was the subject of a CBS 17 Fact Check in May, when NCDHHS said the mapping tool helped vaccination rates improve by 50 percent in 89 underserved communities by pinpointing trouble spots.

It identifies the census tracts across the state with high rates of social vulnerability and low vaccine uptake rates. DHHS focused what it called targeted outreach efforts on 90 such tracts that met those two criteria — as well as having no COVID-19 vaccine providers — as of late April.

At the time, Dr. Charlene Wong, the chief health policy officer for COVID-19 for DHHS, said she heard from people across the state that “this map is really changing the way that we are doing our COVID-19 vaccination efforts.”

The tool also showed that the census tract in north Raleigh where President Joe Biden spoke in late June to encourage people to get the shots was marked by an abnormally low vaccination rate and a high social vulnerability to the virus. 

The area near the Green Road Community Center, marked by minorities, stands as an outlier in one of the state’s top-performing counties.

The map Wednesday showed the same figures that it did when the president visited.

Public health officials in both Wake and Durham counties say they’ve been gathering those figures on their own.

“We have our now data tracking and do our own census tract maps, and so we collect our own data,” Wardell said. “We’ve identified the lowest vaccinated census tracts. And we have a whole strategy in place where we work within those census tracts to try to get folks vaccinated using that data.”

She says the county keeps its own social and economic vitality index data, and pulls numbers from the COVID-19 Vaccine Management System.

“And we’ve got a very talented group of epidemiologists and data analysts that look at that data and compile it, and put it together in census tract maps for us so that we can clearly see where folks are lagging behind in vaccinations,” she said.

But it raises a question: If the DHHS map hasn’t been updated in months, and counties like Wake are collecting those numbers on their own anyway, does the state’s map still have value?

Wardell says it does.

“We use it just kind of as an overview to see what’s happening,” she said. “But again, we do our own deep dive into that data and develop our own strategies that are relevant and important to our communities here.”

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.

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