Why open data must underpin our nation's COVID vaccination rollout
While Sydney currently goes through another wave of lockdowns as the Delta variant of COVID rapidly spreads throughout the community, all eyes are on the efficiency of the vaccine rollout.
It’s positive to hear that Operation COVID Shield Head Lieutenant-General John Frewen is intending to provide more detail about vaccination data as he reviews the country’s vaccine rollout.
In any situation, crisis or otherwise, it is easy for data to take a back seat as people are focused on doing what’s in front of them or what’s immediate. But data needs to be put at the forefront to enable governments to make data-informed decisions, set targets and see how we’re progressing towards our vaccination milestones.
Since the start of the pandemic, Australia has long been held as a beacon of how to handle the COVID crisis through a solid system of contact tracing and strict social distancing. This has been underpinned by data-driven decision-making based on real-time data showing COVID cases as they are confirmed, the availability of PPE resources, hospital admissions and other types of critical healthcare data. This enabled the government to act on the rapidly changing situation swiftly to limit the spread of COVID-19 within the community.
By analysing many disparate datasets from across the nation in real time, this data-driven approach from the Department of Health provided pinpoint accurate and actionable data, which informed the government’s decision-making in response to the pandemic throughout the disruptive year of 2020 and into the mid-point of 2021.
But we now risk undermining all of our achievements so far by a slower-paced vaccination rollout.
Open data on vaccination rates will be critical to Australia being able to stay open, even with fresh outbreaks of the virus. Opening up vaccination data means better planning and predictability. Most importantly, having that data available also enables the public to know when they can take the vaccines and importantly where (ie, what clinics have availability, closest proximity to their local government area, etc). After all, vaccination rates need to reach a level high enough to be able to provide sufficient protection in the population. In fact, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian recently confirmed that she believes we need to see 80% of the Australian population vaccinated before Australia can be reopened and return to some level of normality.
If we look at our neighbours in New Zealand, the population is still largely unvaccinated like in Australia, but we can take inspiration from its approach to sharing open vaccination data. Available for public viewing on the Ministry of Health website, citizens can easily track vaccination data by day, ethnicity, age, gender, location and other key demographics. It also shares information on how much stock is available and how the nation is tracking against its vaccination plan.
So what is open data and why is it important?
Open data are datasets collected by agencies that are made freely available to anyone that wants them, across different levels of government as well as to the media and general public. In short, open data allows decision-makers to see the full picture and understand, on a granular level, the situation they face, using this to make data-informed decisions.
Governments can use open data to track progress with vaccinations, monitor supply chains and availability, redirect vaccinations to certain demographics, prioritise different classes of ‘essential’ workers (eg, supermarket workers, food delivery drivers, etc), support areas that require them more urgently, and develop policies designed to ensure the Australian public is kept safe and informed on the COVID-19 pandemic.
By decentralising and opening up data across governments, leaders and key decision-makers are given the most accurate and up-to-date information to make informed decisions in real time.
By taking learnings from the successes of other governments’ vaccination rollouts and approaches to open data, Australia can ensure that enough vaccines are being distributed where they are needed to keep the public informed, help open up our economy and, most importantly, keep the country safe from COVID-19.
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