December 21, 2021

As Omicron Variant Dominates New Cases, Warren, Markey, Pressley, Lee Call on CDC, HHS to Resume Data Collection on COVID-19 Breakthrough Cases

Without comprehensive data collection, experts cannot identify or track racial disparities in breakthrough cases 

Text of Letter (PDF)

Washington, D.C. – United States Senator Elizabeth Warren (D-Mass.), along with Senator Ed Markey (D-Mass.), Representative Ayanna Pressley (D-Mass.), and Representative Barbara Lee (D-Calif.), sent a letter to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Director Rochelle Walensky and Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra urging them to monitor, report, and address racial and other ethnic demographic disparities in breakthrough COVID-19 cases nationwide. 

Comprehensive data collection will improve experts’ ability to study the spread of new variants, and to address the crucial health needs of communities most at risk during the pandemic. Currently, just four states report breakthrough COVID-19 case data by race and ethnicity, while the CDC only reports breakthrough cases that result in hospitalization or death, and these data are not publicly available by race or ethnicity. Public health experts have explained that additional data on breakthrough cases could provide critical information regarding the spread of new COVID-19 variants, including Omicron.

“We urge you to resume collecting data on COVID-19 breakthrough infections nationwide with breakdowns by race, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics and to make this data publicly available as soon as possible. Comprehensive data collection would allow experts to better understand patterns in breakthrough cases, identify COVID-19 variants earlier, and analyze the potential effect of compounding ‘racial and ethnic inequities in wealth, health, education, work housing, and medical care’ on vaccine response,” the lawmakers wrote.

Black, Latino, and Indigenous communities continue to be at increased risk of COVID-19 cases and deaths. Even among vaccinated individuals, the limited available data indicates that breakthrough cases appear to be more common among people of color than among white people. More comprehensive data on breakthrough cases will allow researchers and policymakers to respond effectively to this crucial public health and racial equity issue.

Senator Warren has consistently advocated for demographic data on COVID-19 cases to better address the pandemic’s disproportionate impact on communities of color. 

  • Senator Warren pressed HHS Secretary Xavier Becerra to commit to improving COVID-19 data collection during his confirmation hearings. 
  • In July 2021, Senator Warren and Rep. Pressley urged Governor Baker to continue reporting demographic data on COVID-19 hospitalizations.
  • In March 2021, Senator Warren and Congresswoman Lee re-introduced the COVID Community Care Act legislation to provide emergency funding for community organizations in medically underserved communities that suffer from health disparities to take action as part of the larger public health effort to contain COVID-19.
  • In February 2021, Senator Warren, Senator Markey, and Rep. Pressley led their colleagues in introducing the Equitable Data Collection and Disclosure on COVID-19 Act, legislation to require the federal government to collect and publicly release racial and other demographic data on COVID-19. Aspects of the legislation were included in a COVID-19 relief package signed into law later that month.