Australia’s Department of Health has criticized the accuracy of its COVID-19 vaccine data

Australia’s Department of Health and Aged Care has been criticized for not having enough assurance on the quality of the data it uses to monitor and report on COVID-19 vaccine coverage.

A recent report published by the Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) reviewed the department’s conduct of the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, which it described as “one of the largest exercises in health logistics in Australian history”.

Why is this important?

The Department of Health has established four key systems to manage and monitor vaccine rollout, the Australian Immunization Register (AIR), the Vaccine Administration System (VAS), the Covid-19 Vaccine Administration System (CVAS) and the Vaccine Data Solution. Data collection and IT management services for these systems were outsourced from IT services firms including Australia (for AIR), Salesforce (for VAS and CVAS), Accenture (for reporting dashboards), and Amazon Web Services (for CVAS).

According to the audit report, the department cannot outsource the responsibilities under various laws for confidentiality, privacy and security of the data collected through these systems.

“No health [the] Assurance that third parties have IT controls in place to ensure confidentiality, integrity and availability of data,” it said.

The report also found that the department had not “formally reviewed” the data entered into these systems, leading to “undetected and unknown errors” in the data, particularly in the AIR and CVAS systems.

It was said that the department did not clarify its responsibility for data quality in AIR, where it is mandatory to report all vaccination records. The national registry was noted to have a 14% error rate, based on a 2018 study by the National Center for Immunization Research and Surveillance. While mandatory vaccination reporting through AIR may have improved its error rate, “no evidence is available to support this,” the report said.

In addition, the audit revealed gaps in data related to the immunization status of some priority and target groups. The department has been flagged for not having accurate data on vaccination rates of critical and high-risk workers – a priority group under the first phase of the vaccine rollout – as “occupational data was not collected in the AIR”.

Meanwhile, the ANAO still acknowledged its use of available data to plan and support vaccine rollout despite flaws in its data collection. “However, [the Health Department] Inaccuracies in its internal or external data processes have not been quantified during the period examined.”

In response to the Auditor General’s findings and recommendations, the Department of Health agreed to establish procedures to ensure “regularly received and reviewed” data quality and IT controls in externally managed systems based on risk, including IT security, change management. and batch processing. “The department will conduct an independent review of its IT controls and the use of its internal quality assurance framework.”

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The ANAO said it conducted the audit to provide independent assurance to Parliament that the country’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout was “planned and effectively implemented”.

In summary, it found that the Department of Health’s final governance arrangement in managing vaccine rollout has been “very effective”, while its implementation has been “partially effective” with its vaccine administration “not meeting targets” for priority groups and the general public.

The Auditor General then recommended improving data quality and IT controls and conducting a comprehensive review of the vaccine rollout. “The [Health] The department is committed to effective implementation of the recommendations and has initiated initiatives to address the issues identified in this audit,’ the response said.

Since administering the first COVID-19 vaccines in February last year, the department has administered around 63 million doses across the country till August 2022.

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