The Australian government has engaged software and data specialists to set up IT systems capable of managing and tracking the logistics of a Covid-19 vaccination program.
With four promising Covid-19 vaccine candidates progressing through clinical trials - and the first vaccine approved for emergency use in the US and UK - governments worldwide face the task of managing a globally coordinated supply chain effort to vaccinate their populations quickly and safely.
Once a vaccine is approved as safe and effective, which is expected to be early 2021, the Australian government is responsible for safely transporting doses from suppliers to the storage and administration sites.
It will also have oversight of the locations of doses, stock levels, locations for vaccination and who has been vaccinated.
To manage the large scale, high-demand vaccination program, IT systems will be required to bridge multiple data sources, and provide supply chain visibility and future demand forecasting.
Legislation has also been introduced to make it easier to keep tabs on who has received the jab, through an updated national immunisation register.
The government has started work identifying key system capabilities and gaps across the digital, data and reporting systems that will help to manage public demand, minimise reporting overhead, and improve the efficacy of the rollout.
“This involves the consolidation of data from many existing systems and sources so that there is a central source of information about each dose and each vial,” a department of health spokesperson told iTnews.
“This end-to-end capability will allow us to understand where doses are needed, improve vaccine access and avoid issues of excess stock or wastage.
"The government is working to ensure it can track the location of vaccine stock at any time and is also engaging software and data specialists to ensure vaccines can be tracked at every stage in their journey, from receipt from the manufacturer through to post-immunisation monitoring."
Currently, orders and supply of other vaccines to states and territories are managed through the Department of Health’s vaccine administration system.
However the department does not have oversight or a contractual arrangement to oversee the forecasting, supply and distribution of those vaccines in the private market.
These arrangements are managed by individual vaccine manufacturers and suppliers.
Local distribution of other vaccines such as the seasonal flu vaccine under the National Immunisation Program (NIP) is managed by individual states and territories.
The federal government is also working with its state and territory counterparts, vaccine makers and logistics companies to coordinate the rollout of the vaccine.
Toll Group is among those providing logistics advice about the options for cold-chain supply for healthcare cargo to both state and federal health departments as well as preparing to play a role in distributing the vaccine across the country.
Rather than building or buying a new IT infrastructure, Toll's preparations to help distribute the vaccine will rely on the system it uses to distribute millions of influenza vaccine doses each year.
“Toll operates a system comprising integration, enterprise resource planning, warehouse management and reporting software to deliver 6.5 million doses of the influenza vaccine across Australia each year,” Toll's executive general manager for consumer, retail and healthcare Jason Bush said.
“The system is directly linked to Toll’s transport management system for shipments and a customer track and trace portal (MyToll) which can be used to monitor shipments.”
Information can be shared from Toll’s enterprise systems via APIs, system integration, web portals and reports.
Toll said those same systems can be scaled up to manage the distribution of the 40-50 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine that are anticipated will be required in Australia.
“Our standard processes will handle the operational requirements of Covid vaccine distribution, and our systems are by design, scalable and extensible,” Bush said.
Toll is also expanding its cold chain capabilities to ensure vaccine integrity.
Pfizer have indicated that they will provide thermal shippers with inbuilt data logs that provide real-time GPS location and temperature tracking to ensure the integrity of the vaccine, which must be stored at -70°C.
Other Covid-19 vaccine candidates will be able to be transported like the flu vaccine using refrigerated vehicles.
System enhancements will also need to be made to the Australian Immunisation Register, a national database which will be used to record all Covid-19 vaccinations.
Earlier this month the federal government introduced legislation to make it mandatory for vaccine providers to report all vaccinations to the Australian Immunisation Register (AIR) to help track and trace who is and isn’t protected against Covid-19.
The AIR is a whole-of-life national immunisation register that captures vaccines administered to those living in Australia.
However, reporting vaccinations to AIR is currently voluntary meaning the government doesn’t have a complete picture of who is vaccinated.
“While vaccinations would remain voluntary, it would become mandatory to report that vaccines have been provided," a spokesperson for the department of Health told iTnews.
“Mandatory reporting in the Australian Immunisation Register means that people will be able to view an immunisation certificate through their My Health Record (MHR).”
MHR is already connected to the AIR and could be used to generate immunisation certificates or alerts to remind Australians to get their second dose of the vaccine.
Immunisation history statements, generated by AIR, can also be viewed and printed via Medicare Online, myGov or the Express Plus Medicare mobile app.
The register will require system enhancements to cope with the increased interactions, to create new data fields and to provide bulk vaccination upload functionality.
Final costs for the above system enhancements are yet to be determined.
The change will make it mandatory for recognised vaccination providers to report all Covid-19 vaccines they administer to the register as well as influenza vaccinations from March 1, 2021.
From July 1, 2021 all national immunisation program (NIP) vaccinations will also be reported.
Civil penalties will be introduced if vaccination providers do not comply with the new requirements.