CDC Responds After Reporting Fewer COVID-19 Pediatric Deaths


A general view of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) headquarters in Atlanta on Sept. 30, 2014. (Tami Chappell/Reuters)

The Epoch  Times

By Zachary Stieber

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says its removal tens of thousands of deaths it had attributed to COVID-19 happened because the agency was mistakenly counting deaths not related to COVID-19.

The CDC removed 72,277 deaths, including 416 among children, that were said to have been from COVID-19 from its data tracker webpage this week.

“CDC constantly reviews our COVID-19 data to ensure its accuracy,” Jasmine Reed, a spokeswoman for the agency, told The Epoch Times in an email, adding that the adjustment was made “because CDC’s algorithm was accidentally counting deaths that were not COVID-19-related.”

The CDC had not announced when the change was made. On its website, the agency described the update as a statement from the resolution of a “coding logic error.”

The Epoch Times has filed a Freedom of Information Act request for internal communications relating to the change, which included the removal of some 24 percent of pediatric deaths attributed to COVID-19.

Reed said the CDC often has incomplete data when figures are first reported to the agency from states.

“Our rigorous quality control measures help us identify when new information changes our understanding of data that has previously been reported,” she wrote.

The data tracker now reports 782,371 deaths from COVID-19.

That’s different from a separate measure, compiled from death certificates and managed by the CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics (NCHS).

The NCHS currently lists 967,748 deaths where COVID-19 was listed as the underlying or contributing cause of death. However, its death count for those under 18 is actually lower than the data tracker figure.

“Death data on the COVID data tracker are real-time and subject to change,” Reed said. In contrast, the NCHS tracker “is the most complete source of death data, including COVID-19 deaths, as they have a robust and rigorous process for reviewing death certificates in determining the official cause of death.”

Some of the pediatric deaths attributed to COVID-19, according to a search of the CDC’s Wonder system, include deaths where drowning or drug use was listed as the primary cause of death.

The data tracker numbers are cited widely in media and by experts, including CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky. The Guardian, among those citing the number, corrected an article after the latest update, noting the downwards correction by the CDC of the death figure.

Some defended the CDC, arguing that the agency’s website says the data are estimated and subject to change.

“There is much complexity involved in all systems that are trying to track and summarize illness and death data, including differences in how data are collected and reported, completeness, and accuracy of data, how timely data is entered into data collection systems and reported to CDC, and in the assumptions made, and procedures used to determine whether COVID-19 was the primary cause of death, a contributing cause of death, or not likely a contributing factor in someone’s death,” Glen Nowak, a former CDC spokesperson, told The Epoch Times. “It is thus not surprising that adjustments or revisions happen, including as a result of coding-related issues.”

Many, though, were critical of the agency.

Dr. Jeffrey Klausner, a former CDC official, wrote on Twitter that the difference in numbers before and after the update was “substantial.”

“Data integrity is important. Good to see the update. No one will be held accountable,” he said.

“The CDC has failed miserably in data collection and is finally beginning to correct a few of their errors that inflated COVID deaths in all ages, including kids,” Dr. Nicole Saphier, a radiologist at Memorial Sloan Kettering Monmouth, added.