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City Hall on Feb. 25, 2022. Credit: Kylie Cooper

The Philadelphia Department of Public Health incorrectly reported inflated pediatric COVID-19 vaccination rates for several weeks — which it recently clarified was the result of a staff error.

Due to a conflation of first and second doses, the health department reported a vaccination rate of more than 50% for children between 5 and 11 years old. The department double-counted thousands of records on the city’s COVID-19 dashboard in a failure to discern the doses, resulting in a raw number significantly higher than the actual pediatric vaccination rate of about 26.9%.

The health department previously attributed the mistake to a recent merging of state and city data, but Health Commissioner Cheryl Bettigole told The Philadelphia Inquirer that the inaccuracy has since been found to be the product of a staff error.

The inflated number appeared as a raw count of fully vaccinated children on the city’s public COVID-19 dashboard, and the department has since taken it down. Before it was corrected on March 9, the site showed a pediatric vaccination rate roughly 10% higher than the national average reported by the CDC

The merged state data also inflated Philadelphia’s reported adult vaccination rate, which was corrected from 82% to 76%.

Bettigole said that she was aware of the issue as early as Feb. 16, but the health department held off on announcing its mistake until it could confirm that new public data was correct in order to avoid additional confusion.

“I didn’t want to further undermine confidence by being wrong again,” she said, according to The Philadelphia Inquirer.

A similar mistake also impacted Pennsylvania’s reported vaccination rates in 2021.

This is the latest in a series of major public fallacies by the Philadelphia health department since the start of the pandemic — coming after a failed vaccine partnership with the Philly Fighting COVID organization and a scandal involving former Health Commissioner Thomas Farley and remains of the 1985 MOVE bombing.

Ala Stanford, the founder of the Black Doctors COVID-19 Consortium, said in an interview with the Inquirer that vaccine providers are required to specify dose and demographic information in their reports for all administered shots.

The Philadelphia health department now has two teams reviewing public vaccination data with greater scrutiny to avoid future mistakes on the city’s COVID-19 dashboard, Bettigole said.