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Reaction to the STRIB Op-ed

By November 14, 2021Commentary

An epidemiologist wrote a letter to the Strib that was published today, critiquing my analysis primarily for use of proportions only.  I sent her the below email.  My primary point is that at the time we wrote the op-ed, we had to use the data the state had made available.  We have better data now and are working on additional analyses.  I have several times, including yesterday, outlined the benefits and limitations of various approaches, and the need to have data to provide all the analyses.  And let me further point out that even on the proportion approach you get some interesting data.  For example, in the four week period from early September to early October in 2020 there were a total of 233 deaths, obviously all in unvaccinated persons.  For the similar period in 2021, there were 151 deaths in fully vaccinated persons alone.  There were an additional 214 deaths in the unvaccinated (once more, let me emphaxize that fully vaxed events are undercounted and that people with one dose are considered unvaxed).  That should be a concern.  Here is the email I sent:

“I saw your letter and just wanted to give you a full context and hopefully you will even help me gather and present better information to the public. I want to say first, which should have been in the column, that I am fully vaxed and boosted, and I am not anti-vax in any way, but I am pro-truth and it is not true to say that this is even predominantly an epidemic of the unvaxed.

If you read the blog at all, and especially the posts about Minnesota’s breakthrough data, you will see that I understand the complexity of statistical analysis pretty clearly and have caveated all my analyses with explanations of data limitations and the virtues and flaws of various methodological and analytical approaches. It is not possible in an op-ed aimed at the general public to go into a detailed explanation of those.

If I had not pushed, and in fact insisted through Data Practices Act requests, that the state begin releasing breakthrough data, we wouldn’t have any at all. And I am still pulling teeth to get complete data. After the column was written for example, the colleague who works with me received a data file from the State which for the first time had actual dates of cases and ages. We are pushing for dates of hospitalizations and deaths as well.

We got that file because the per capita files originally released by the state are corrupted and inaccurate, they don’t foot to or reconcile with any other data, a problem the state has now acknowledged.

In the context of breakthrough events, all we were initially given was data by date of report. Since that is all we had, we could only focus on comparing the breakthrough events reported to all events reported in the same time period. We tried to guess about relative lags in reporting, but we really had no good sense of that. Then about a week ago the DOH indicated that the lag was roughly four weeks and we were able to give a better sense of actual proportion of events over time. That was startling, not just for the percent of events that were among the fully vaxed, but how it was growing over time. Finally we got some information with actual dates of events, although it is as yet incomplete, and we got some age data, which is critical. More analysis to come.

The look at proportions of events really has very limited value. It serves mostly as a check on the notion that this is an epidemic of the unvaxed. Far more revealing are case rates–what proportion of breakthrough cases result in hospitalization or death and compare those to non-breakthrough case rates. And this should ideally be broken down by age. This helps understand vaccine effectiveness and since age is obviously such a factor in serious disease, you can understand vaccine effectiveness by age group. Our early work on the new file indicates that those rates are indeed much higher in the unvaxed, but that effect greatly lessens with age.

Per capita rates or rates of events in a given population are also important, but obviously the data has to be accurate, and as I indicated above, the state has acknowledged that those original files they released are screwed up. So comparing rates in the vaxed and unvaxed populations, comparing rates in various age groups, comparing across vaccines, this has tremendous utility in understanding vaccine effectiveness and epidemic trends. Variation in those rates over time is also important. And one very important and usually missing piece in analyses of vaccine effectiveness is the role of time since last dose. Ideally you would have that variable for every person. The same is true in trying to compare the effect of prior infection.

So what I would love to have, and DOH has every bit of this data or can easily access it, is a master spreadsheet that for every person has their age; if vaxed, the date of each dose and vaccine received; if ever infected, the date of infection, and for each infection in the person, the date of that infection (to detect reinfections and breakthroughs); whether the person was hospitalized and when for each hospitalization in the person; and whether they died and when. With that spreadsheet you could calculate relative risks on a days of exposure basis and you could do all the case rates and per capita rates. So, we have demanded that DOH provide that.

It is in the interest of sound public policy that full data be released and be available for independent analysis. And it is clearly true that even with 70% of the population, including children, vaccinated in Minnesota we have a high level of cases, hospitalizations and deaths. We had almost as many deaths in Minnesota in September and October this year among the vaccinated, as we had in September and October last year when no one was vaccinated.

So anything you can do to get fulsome data released and to conduct your own analysis of such data would be helpful. Thank you.”

The epidemiologist very kindly replied and said while she doesn’t work in infectious diseases and isn’t familiar with the state data, she was concerned that a misleading impression could be given that vaccines aren’t working.  I agree with that, which is why I try to caveat everything and now that we have better data, we can actually do some work on case rates, by age, and on per capita rates.


Join the discussion 7 Comments

  • Nathan Simon says:

    I think you are doing a great job with your Covid analysis. This blog has been the best non-political site for Covid information that I have ever found. I still take some of the information here with a grain of salt but that’s because I don’t fully trust what the state is sending you for data.

    Keep up the good work.

  • Peggy A Lewis says:

    Good Morning Kevin..

    She’s concerned that the impression is that the vaccines aren’t working? Well I’ve got news for her, they aren’t. NOT, in fact, the way they were bandied about on every news print article and TV reporting agency! Does this mean they aren’t somewhat effective for a certain cohort? Does it mean we further allow the emerging data to be obfuscated and gleaned counter factual because Walz, Fauci, Walensky and their liberal news media friends can’t stop salivating over who is and isn’t vaccinated?

    That Epi emailed you NOT because of the content of your OP-ED (she could have argued statistical/analytical or even methodology very professionally by challenging your outcomes) but because she didn’t appreciate the audacity you have in sharing your findings…

    And that folks, is how Science has become political

  • Debbie M says:

    Exactly, Peggy. And since it was a epidemiologist who refuted Kevin’s evidence based research, the good people of MN will only believe her. Too bad they didn’t get wind of the disclaimer that she doesn’t even work in infectious diseases or know jack about the state’s data.

    It’s all political BS. I love it Kevin, that you called her out.

  • rob says:

    Speaking of bad data, on a personal level, I received my Covid booster from Walgreens 3 weeks ago. My doctor told me yesterday that the state records don’t show me as having gotten the booster. I called Walgreens and they didn’t know what happened, but assured me they would resend my data to the state. So maybe Walgreens never reported it initially, or maybe the state lost it, I’m not sure.

  • Chuck says:

    I agree with both Peggy and Debbie!! And love your response to that letter Kevin!!

  • Dan says:

    “she doesn’t work in infectious diseases and isn’t familiar with the state data, she was concerned that a misleading impression could be given that vaccines aren’t working. ”

    If she doesn’t work in infectious diseases why does she think she qualified to comment? I would have called her out on that immediately. End of story. It would have been funny if she was concerned that a misleading impression could be given that
    masks aren’t working which you would have had to agree with.

  • charles atkinson says:

    If the average citizen knew that the jabs provide none of the protections traditionally associated with vaccination, I believe they would conclude the vaccines don’t work. As time passes and what little benefit fades, the jabs would look even worse. If they were then informed of the high level of adverse events including thousands of deaths, their squeamishness would increase. If they knew that there have been no long-term studies, and then received a little education in Antibody Dependent Enhancement and High Zone Tolerance, they’d run screaming looking for somebody to get the vaccine out of them. If you had a way of doing that, you’d make a fortune.

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