Skip to content
Link copied to clipboard

More than 200,000 long-awaited state vaccination records could change the picture of who’s had COVID-19 doses in Philadelphia

City officials are eager to know details about almost 250,000 vaccinated Philadelphians.

Kena Marshall-Owens (left), who is the wife of a veteran, records the moment as LPN Penny Roche-Walls gives her a COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccine clinic at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Philadelphia in May.
Kena Marshall-Owens (left), who is the wife of a veteran, records the moment as LPN Penny Roche-Walls gives her a COVID-19 vaccine at the vaccine clinic at the Veterans Affairs hospital in Philadelphia in May.Read moreDAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer

Philadelphia’s health officials are awaiting detailed vaccination records for nearly 250,000 residents who got their doses outside the city, data that could change the picture of who is protected against COVID-19 in the city.

While the city does add the state’s numbers into its overall count of fully vaccinated residents, it has no detailed information about those residents, including their age, sex, race, or where they live. That means the city has no data on more than one in five of the residents believed to be fully vaccinated.

Also unclear, whether most of those people got their shots outside the city during the scramble for doses early this year, or if there’s been a steady trickle of city residents getting vaccinated elsewhere in Pennsylvania. That means the state data, when reconciled with city records, may not add a full 250,000 residents to the numbers.

And it is unknown if there is duplication within the state and city records. It is possible, for example, people identified in the city as partially vaccinated did end up receiving the full regimen of shots, but got one of the two shots in the city and another elsewhere.

The city has sought the more detailed records since the beginning of the vaccination effort.

“It has made it difficult to know where to allocate resources,” said James Garrow, a spokesperson for the Philadelphia Department of Public Health.

The state has records of 198,678 fully vaccinated and 48,373 partially vaccinated Philadelphians who received their shots in one of the state’s 66 counties outside Philadelphia, the Pennsylvania Department of Health confirmed. The state and city health departments use different systems to track vaccinations, state Health Department spokesperson Mark O’Neill said, and both are working to coordinate record-keeping. City officials are hopeful they will receive the data from the state in a matter of weeks.

The city health department has long anticipated a national COVID-19 vaccine record-keeping system that would allow sharing of information among states, but that has yet to materialize.

» READ MORE: CDC says 95% of Pa. adults have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose. That’s wrong.

Anecdotally, the gaps in the data have confused efforts to boost vaccination rates in some of the city’s least vaccinated neighborhoods.

“We’ve pushed outreach efforts into communities that appear to be low vaccinated, and hear from folks that they’re all vaccinated,” Garrow said. “This may or may not be true, but we have no idea until we have access to these data.”

City health officials aren’t sure what to expect from the new data but think it may change what they thought they knew about vaccination in zip codes that border other counties, Garrow said.

“The political boundary doesn’t really make that much of a difference to folks,” he said. “A CVS two blocks that way is the same as a CVS two blocks this way.”

Another question the data may clarify: why vaccine uptake appears to have plateaued among white Philadelphians more than for other races. The city’s vaccination records show 61% of the city’s white population is fully vaccinated, just eight percentage points higher than about six months ago. A lower percentage of Black Philadelphians are vaccinated citywide, but rates for those residents increased by 19 percentage points in the same time frame.

Among Philadelphians age 45 and older, the city’s white residents are the least vaccinated of any group.

City officials believe white residents, generally more well off and numerous near the city’s northeastern border, may be more likely to leave the city to get vaccinated.

“Once we get data from the state, we hope to see vaccination rates throughout the city improve,” Garrow said, “but it might have an outsized effect on the vaccination rate of whites.”

» READ MORE: Fractured record keeping leaves Philly hospitals unsure which patients are vaccinated

This is far from the first time record-keeping quirks and incompatible government data systems have hindered health officials’ ability to understand the COVID-19 pandemic and the vaccination effort. The Inquirer recently reported that data from the CDC exaggerated the state’s overall vaccination rate, and Philadelphia hospitals have complained about interoperability issues that have kept them from confirming whether patients have been vaccinated.

City health department officials noted that even if Pennsylvania provides their more detailed records, they still have no records of Philadelphia residents who left the state to get their shots.