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90% of Miami-Dade vaccinated? ‘It’s just not true,’ experts say

State’s COVID vaccine percentages are flawed, local leaders say

People who traveled to Miami just to get vaccinated are likely artificially inflating the vaccine rate reported by Florida's health department a local mayor and an infectious disease expert both say.

MIAMI-DADE COUNTY, Fla. – Local leaders are raising concern about the state’s claim that Miami-Dade County has reached a 90% COVID vaccination rate, calling it an inflated figure.

The latest weekly report from Florida’s health department says Miami-Dade has the highest percentage of its eligible population (ages 12+) vaccinated against COVID-19 of any county in the state.

However, experts say the 90% figure listed isn’t accurate.

“The true percent vaccinated is nowhere near 90%,” said Dr. Aileen Marty, infectious disease expert at Florida International University. “It’s really giving people a false sense of security.

“It’s just not true,” Marty added. “It’s based on a lot of people who gave Miami-Dade addresses who do not live here. ... We need to distinguish if we want to understand the safety of our community those people who we vaccinated that are truly residents here from those who are not.”

Like Marty, Miami Beach Mayor Dan Gelber has become a vaccination-rate data detective.

“At the end of the day, we are just guessing what the vaccination rate is,” he said.

One red flag indicated that something was amiss: A breakdown by county zip codes shows some population samples surpassing 100% vaccination.

“When we surpassed 100% I realized there was a data problem,” Gelber said.

People age 18 and over in the 33122 area code had more than a 2,700% vaccination rate, according to the data.

Why is that zip code significant?

“That’s the airport,” Gelber said.

Miami International Airport has been a pop-up vaccination site open to anyone — not just county residents.

“I think what has happened is they have included all the vaccine tourists in the numerator but the residents are the only ones in the denominator,” Gelber said. “So the result is that you have these very, very, high vaccination rates because anyone who is seasonal or visiting are included.

“They created a false impression and that is a real problem in a pandemic where good information is important for people to have,” the mayor added.

While a notation on the zip code data set says one reason rates may exceed 100% is due to a population underestimate, the question becomes, is the state not making a distinction between shots in arms administered to anyone in the county versus shots in arms to people who live in the county?

“What we don’t know is how many of our residents are the ones who have gotten the vaccine because a tremendous about of tourists have gotten the vaccine and many of those tourists have claimed zip codes that belong to us as their addresses,” Marty said.

Why?

“Because some people fear if they don’t do that they might not be vaccinated,” Marty said. “We would have vaccinated them anyway.

“It takes a lot of work to tease out who is a true resident and who is not. Until we have that done, and it is very unlike to be done anytime soon, we just can’t trust those numbers.”

Marty said that Miami-Dade isn’t “anywhere near herd immunity” despite vaccination numbers that may suggest that’s the case.

The state’s data shows Broward County with the second-highest vaccination rate at 80% and Monroe County next at 79%. (The data reflects people who have gotten at least one COVID-19 vaccine shot.)

Broward County Mayor Steve Geller said their county has also seen zip codes with over 100% vaccination rates, raising similar concerns about their numbers.

Some zip codes in Broward County have over a 100% vaccination rate, raising questions about the accuracy of the vaccination rates being reported by the state health department. (Map courtesy of Broward County)

Said Miami Beach’s Gelber: “To be very clear, I don’t think there is any problem vaccinating workers, seasonable residents, or even tourists. I think we should be doing that, and we were able to do that and there were not lines for vaccinations towards the end, so we had plenty of vaccines. I think it is better to vaccinate everybody, but we need to know how many of our residents are vaccinated so we know if there are parts of the community where we need pop-ups, where we have to do more advertising.”

The bottom line, Gelber says: “I just urge people don’t look at the vaccination rates assume there are a lot of people around here who are not vaccinated and act accordingly.

“It is harrowing in the sense is people look at this and say we are doing great here in Miami-Dade county. We’re not. These are not accurate. They are incredibly inflated. We don’t know how much they are inflated, and the department of health is not doing anything about that to answer that question so everybody has to assume that people around them are not vaccinated and exercise due caution.”

Gelber said he has asked state health officials “repeatedly” to clear up the confusion and do an audit.

Local 10 News also reached out to the state health department on Wednesday and has not yet heard back. The governor’s office deferred comment to the health department.

A letter that Gelber said he wrote to the governor’s office on July 29 can be seen below. The governor’s office said it has not received a letter from Gelber dated July 29.


About the Author:

Christina returned to Local 10 in 2019 as a reporter after covering Hurricane Dorian for the station. She is an Edward R. Murrow Award-winning journalist and previously earned an Emmy Award while at WPLG for her investigative consumer protection segment "Call Christina."