By Catharin Shepard • Staff writer • Due to an apparent error in how the state was applying vaccination data, Hoke County doesn’t have nearly as many people vaccinated against COVID-19 as previously reported by state and federal agencies, according to an update from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NCDHHS).
Originally the county looked to be among the lowest in the state for vaccinations, based on the data tracked through the state’s COVID-19 vaccination management system. When state and federal agencies added in the number of people who had gotten their shots through vaccination programs from the United States Department of Defense, Department of Veterans Affairs, Indian Health Services and the Federal Bureau of Prisons – Hoke’s numbers went up, even topping the 50 percent mark for people who had received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
However, when data managers included that information, they apparently only looked at where the shots were administered, not where the people getting those shots actually live, according to an NCDHHS press release sent out Friday, October 1.
“As part of its regular data quality review, NCDHHS discovered a vaccination report from the (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) CDC was based on county of administration. All other vaccine data is by county of residence. North Carolina was the first state to raise the issue to the CDC as most other states are not providing this level of data on their public dashboards. The CDC has now provided the correct report, and NCDHHS has updated the public dashboard accordingly,” the press release said.
When the agency updated the data last week, Hoke’s numbers dropped by 19 percent, by far the largest change among any of the counties affected by the data update.
As of Tuesday, the new vaccine numbers once again showed Hoke with a low vaccination rate compared to other North Carolina counties. About 29 percent of people who live in Hoke County are considered fully vaccinated, with about 33 percent having received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine, according to the NCDHHS’s most recent data. That works out to about 16,079 Hoke residents fully vaccinated, and 18,235 who have received at least one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Hoke’s neighboring counties all have higher vaccination rates. In Robeson County, at least 36 percent of all residents are fully vaccinated, along with 44 percent of Scotland County residents. Over 54 percent of Cumberland County’s population, and 52 percent of Moore County’s population is fully vaccinated against COVID-19, according to the updated NCDHHS numbers.
Hoke wasn’t the only county to see a change in its vaccination rate after the NCDHHS update, though it did see the largest drop. Orange County saw a decrease of 11 percent, Jackson County saw a decrease of nine percent and Rowan County saw a decrease of eight percent. In contrast, Swain County saw an increase of 15 percent in its vaccination rate after the data adjustment, according to the press release.
An estimated 82 counties saw an increased vaccination rate based on the update, though most had only a small change of about one percent. The other counties in the state either had no change or a decrease of one to two percent, after the update.
“Throughout the pandemic, NCDHHS has worked to improve data accuracy and transparency in its reporting. The information on the data dashboard is used to promote equity, track progress and guide decision-making. Having the most accurate information available is important so local and state leaders have the data needed to inform decision-making,” the agency said in the statement.
It wasn’t immediately clear how the change to Hoke County’s vaccination rate will impact efforts to get more people vaccinated. State officials said NCDHHS will work with the Hoke County Health Department to reassess the situation. “NCDHHS is working with local health departments in the seven counties on any needed changes to vaccine strategy and communication,” the agency announced.