Background: The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has been a major source of information during the COVID-19 pandemic, guiding policies and practices in many aspects of life. As such, it is imperative that the information be free of errors, or, if errors are made, that they are corrected quickly.
Methods: We sought to compile instances of numerical and statistical errors made by the CDC during the COVID-19 pandemic by reviewing CDC publications, press releases, interviews, meetings, and Twitter accounts. Further, we catalogued mortality data from both the National Center for Health Statistics and the CDC COVID Data Tracker and compared reported results.
Results: We documented 25 instances when the CDC reported statistical or numerical errors. Twenty (80%) of these instances exaggerated the severity of the COVID-19 situation, 3 (12%) instances simultaneously exaggerated and downplayed the severity of the situation, one error was neutral, and one error exaggerated COVID-19 vaccine risks. The CDC was notified about the errors in 16 (64%) instances, and later corrected the errors, at least partially, in 13 (52%) instances.
Conclusion: A basic prerequisite for making informed policy decisions is accurate and reliable statistics, even during times of uncertainty. Our investigation revealed 25 instances of numerical or statistical errors made by the CDC. Our investigation suggests 1) the need for greater diligence in data collection and reporting, and 2) that the federal entity responsible for reporting health statistics should be firewalled from the entity setting policy due to concerns of real or perceived systematic bias in errors.