Why does Australia rely on volunteers for detailed COVID vaccine stats?

Jolyon Attwooll

12/08/2021 5:16:04 PM

GPs say more localised official figures could aid the rollout, but there are no immediate plans for these to be released.

Vials of Pfizer COVID vaccine.
GPs say more localised official figures could aid the rollout, but there are no immediate plans for these to be released.

It took more than six months into Australia’s vaccine rollout before the Department of Health (DoH) released official figures that provided more specific geographical insight than simply state- or territory-based numbers.
The DoH published its second update according to geographical areas this week, and it already provides an opportunity for more current, localised comparisons of vaccine take-up over the past seven days than has ever been possible previously.
For example, it shows that more than one in 10 eligible people rolled up their sleeve for a COVID-19 vaccine in several areas of Sydney in the first week of August, with uptake in NSW increasing further still in the past few days.
There are six broad regions around Sydney – known as Statistical Area 4s (SA4s) – where more than one in 10 residents got vaccinated in that time.
Meanwhile, the lowest weekly vaccination rates were recorded in hard-to-access areas that are already lagging significantly in the overall rollout – the Western Australia Outback (North) region shifted the dial by just 1.3% for first and second doses.
However, while these newly released public figures are no doubt valuable, they are still much less detailed than reports published by governments in comparable nations such as the US and UK.
New England’s Vermont, one of the most vaccinated places in the US, is one example. The state’s health authorities not only release full details of vaccination rates at a county level, but also make details of uptake available according to a variety of factors, including by ethnicity.
Associate Professor Charlotte Hespe, who is based in Sydney and sits on the RACGP’s COVID Working Group, believes a more detailed format would be welcome in Australia.
‘There is no doubt that a granular report with data that can be cross referenced to active cases in the community would be fantastic,’ she told newsGP.
‘This would enable us as a GP community to see where we might need to assist other areas and also to congratulate the areas that are doing a fabulous rollout.
‘It would also be useful to see if we need to divert doses of vaccine into certain areas across Australia rather than be focused on our own needs in a community.’
Another working group member, RACGP Western Australia Chair Dr Sean Stevens, believes more detail could be used for targeted education campaigns.
‘Every GP is trying their hardest to get their patients vaccinated,’ he told newsGP. ‘Certain suburbs have culturally and linguistically diverse residents, so being able to target a campaign to that group of people could be really useful at a local-government level.’
Currently, the most detailed information on the vaccine rollout and COVID-19 cases in Australia is collated on unofficial but reliable websites including COVID Live and COVID-19 in Australia. Both sites draw on official government sources at federal and state level, and COVID Live includes state-specific guides indicating when National Cabinet targets will be met if the vaccination program continues at the current pace.
COVID-19 in Australia was the first to appear. The site was founded by data journalist and former Sydney Morning Herald digital producer Juliette O’Brien and run on a voluntary basis to address an information void in the early days of the pandemic.
Ms O’Brien says obtaining official data on Australia’s vaccine rollout in its early stages had been like ‘getting blood from a stone’.
‘In terms of this geographical data, the use of it is clear. We all know that COVID clusters, that it spreads through particular household networks, workplaces and community disproportionately,’ she told newsGP.
‘We want to protect those communities and we want to understand how vulnerable they are.’
Even with the newly released SA4 area data, Ms O’Brien believes useful trends are already evident. She directed newsGP to the work of another data expert (see below), who has already highlighted that age demographics are unlikely to be the full story in explaining which areas have high vaccination rates.

‘At the very least we would want local government area data … to understand who has been vaccinated on a more granular level because geography tells us more, such as income and the number of English-speakers,’ Ms O’Brien said.  
‘I now believe really strongly the more transparent it is, the better. It creates ideas. We know our vaccine rollout, especially in New South Wales, is running at warp speed.
‘But we are at a low-hanging-fruit stage.
‘We might get to the stage where it slows a lot, and [people] are hesitant in some way, and it’s at that stage we are really going to want to understand more about who these people are.’
The Doherty Institute, which released detailed technical modelling last month to shape the National Cabinet’s approach to eventually easing COVID restrictions, has also stressed vaccine targets should be met in all areas rather than taken as a blanket goal for the whole country.
‘Achievement of these targets at small area level will be critical to ensure equity of program impact, as ongoing outbreaks in under-vaccinated populations are reasonably anticipated from international experience,’ the report authors wrote.
In response to an inquiry put to the Doherty Institute by newsGP, a spokesperson said on Thursday that further work has been carried out looking at different population needs in more detail.  
‘The plan for the next phase of work is being reviewed by National Cabinet [on Friday 13 August],’ the spokesperson said. 
‘As foreshadowed in the previous technical report, our focus will be on special population needs and implementation considerations.’
Meanwhile, a DoH spokesperson said there is no ‘further update at this stage’ on the format of public details for the vaccine rollout, saying the current level of detail has been agreed at the National Cabinet.
​As per a previous query, the spokesperson said Lieutenant General John James Frewen, who oversees the logistics of the vaccine rollout under the banner of Operation COVID Shield, is ‘committed to reviewing data and releasing further data sets in due course’.
Data insights
In the week leading up to Sunday 8 August, the greatest proportion of eligible residents anywhere in the country came forward in the Baulkham Hills and Hawkesbury area to the north-west Sydney, according to data published by the DoH.
Comparing the vaccination rate at the beginning of August to details published a week later shows that 10.9% of its eligible residents received either their first or second dose of a vaccine in that time.
That makes it one of the most highly vaccinated areas in Australia.
As of last Sunday (8 August), 56% of the region’s eligible residents had received their first dose of the vaccine, with 30.2% having had both doses of either Pfizer or AstraZeneca.
Only the North Sydney and Hornsby SA4 ranks higher, according to DoH data, with 57.6% and 32% of the population aged over 15 having received their first and second dose, respectively.
Aside from these two areas, more than one in 10 residents were vaccinated in the Northern Beaches, Sydney Outer South West, Ryde, and Sutherland areas in the first week of August.
All parts of Sydney showed an elevated response to calls to be vaccinated, with turnout to primary care and state vaccine hubs passing 8% everywhere in the city and surrounding suburbs during the week up to 8 August. Nowhere else in Australia came close to Sydney as a whole in that time, although parts of Brisbane exceeded 7%, as did inner Perth (7.1%) and the Victorian regional area of Warrnambool and South West (7.4%).
Since those figures were published, the vaccine rollout appears to have gathered even more pace.
The ABC has also reported a surge in the number of younger people getting vaccinated this week, saying there have been record numbers in both Victoria and New South Wales. All state vaccine hubs in Victoria opened up the AstraZeneca vaccine to everybody over the age of 18, while the state’s Premier Daniel Andrews has made a very public push to boost the vaccination numbers.
There were three consecutive records set for the number of daily doses administered this week, with 270,898  doses reported on Friday, following 262,314 on Thursday and 255,964 the day before that.
Log in below to join the conversation

AstraZeneca COVID-19 culturally and linguistically diverse communities Pfizer vaccination vaccine rollout

newsGP weekly poll What areas of healthcare were you hoping would get more funding in this year's Federal Budget?

newsGP weekly poll What areas of healthcare were you hoping would get more funding in this year's Federal Budget?



Login to comment

Dr Judit Gonczi   14/08/2021 3:56:08 PM

The AIR only acknowledges vaccinations if these are both the same either Astra Zeneca or Pfizer.
When one of the doses was of Astra Zeneca but the second dose had to be Pfizer due to severe experienced or potential side effect AIR recognises the forst dose only and that person is not recognised as vaccinated, let alone fully vaccinated.
This pracrice disregards ATAGI's advice on vaccination.
This deprives these individuals of obtaining their rightful certificate and right of free movement when the latter will be only allowed for fully vaccinated people.
AIR is aware of the problem but they are assessing it I was told when I enquired on the phone.
It would be appreciated by many Vaccinators and Individuals if this administrative problem would be solved very soon since GPs following ATAGI's guidelines have solved the problem already.
Dr Judit Gonczi
Optimum Med Health Clinic, Parramatta