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US Covid death tracker added hundreds of child fatalities due to ‘coding error’

US Covid death tracker added hundreds of child fatalities due to ‘coding error’
Deaths from other causes counted as Covid if patient tested positive at time of death

疾病预防与控制中心 (CDC) has removed 72,277 死亡人数, including those of 416 孩子们, from its official US 新冠肺炎 Data Tracker.

The tracker has been posting real-time data collected from more than two dozen state health departments since the early days of the 冠状病毒大流行 在四月份 2020.

There are two sources of data to report Covid-19 deaths in the US, the tracker, and the National Center for Health Statistics website. Both are run by the CDC but the latter relies on death certificates for its data.

The BMJ 报告 that by mid-March the figures presented by the two sites differed substantially, with the number of deaths for children attracting particular attention.

According to the Covid-19 Data Tracker, the number of deaths among infants and children aged 0-17 at about 1,700, while the statistics site stated 900.

The data tracker figure inferred that as many as one-third of all US child Covid deaths occurred during the Omicron variant surge at the close of 2021 and in early 2022.

This shocking figure implied that in the opening months of 2022, 550 children had died from Covid in the US compared to 1,017 in the preceding 22 months since the start of the pandemic. More accurate figures from the American Academy of Pediatrics put deaths at 179 在 2022 和 735 从 2020 通过 2021.

Media outlets picked up on the original figures, causing consternation among both the medical community and parents.

The BMJ says that the inaccuracies in the data were noticed and reported by Kelley Krohnert, a former IT programmer from Atlanta.

“Help needed!!!” she tweeted on 23 February in an appeal to journalists. “It appears [CDC’s] Data Tracker has major issues when it comes to pediatric death reporting. We deserve accurate data when so much is on the line for our kids!”

Ms Krohnert and other parents had been writing to the CDC with concerns about the data tracker since May 2021.

When confronted about the correction to data by The BMJ, the CDC attributed it to its own “rigorous quality control measures”.

The original discrepancy arose because of a coding error in which the “CDC’s algorithm was accidentally counting deaths that were not Covid-19 related,” Jasmine Reed, public affairs specialist, said in an email to the publication, adding that the numbers are recorded in “real-time and subject to change”.

The National Center for Health Statistics data on the other hand “is the most complete source of death data”.

It appears that the error arose from an automatic counting of deaths submitted to local health departments of any hospital patient with a positive Covid-19 test result.

例如, a patient who died from trauma caused by a car accident, who drowned, or died in some other way would be counted as a Covid death if it was found that they were positive at the time of death.

Bob Anderson, chief of the mortality statistics branch at the National Center for Health Statistics and who also served on Covid-19 response task forces, explains that the reason behind this is the system on which it was based was not intended to cope with so many deaths.

The tracker was based on the National Notifiable Disease Surveillance System, which “was built mainly to deal with rare diseases” such as measles, he explained to BMJ.

“People at the state and federal level did their best to pull it together, but the fact is the system wasn’t built to handle hundreds of thousands of deaths,“ 他说.

Further discrepancies for data related to children were discovered elsewhere.

Ms Krohnert found that on the CDC’s Estimated Covid-19 Burden page a calculation error put the proportion of estimated child deaths at four per cent, but the raw numbers come to less than one per cent. The CDC subsequently revised its figure down to 0.07 百分.

The BMJ has also asked the CDC about discrepancies in estimates of infections among children which inexplicably decreased by one million at the height of the Delta variant surge in the summer of 2021.

“It’s important that people are looking at this and calling out the errors. We want to get it right,” said Mr Anderson, adding that CDC employees from various departments had been pulled into the covid response.

“They’re working 70-80 hour weeks. It’s not surprising they might commit an error.”