Australia’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout flawed, audit finds

By on 24/08/2022 | Updated on 24/08/2022
Marco Verch Professional Photographer via Flickr (https://bit.ly/3CJRFL5) under CC license

The rollout of the COVID-19 vaccine by Australia’s health department was “partly effective” but planning was slow and incomplete in the early stages, delivery to priority groups was flawed and it failed to meet targets, according to a review by the country’s National Audit Office.

Australia’s prime minister Anthony Albanese said on Sunday that he would call an inquiry into the federal government’s wider response to the pandemic “as soon as practicable”.

The Australian National Audit Office (ANAO) review, published last Wednesday, found that while the Department of Health and Aged Care undertook “largely appropriate” administration and logistics planning, that “initial planning was not timely”. It said that detailed planning with states and territories was not complete before the vaccine rollout commenced, and that it “underestimated the complexity of administering in-reach services to the aged care and disability sectors”.

While 90% of the eligible population was vaccinated by the end of 2021, the planning and implementation of the vaccine rollout to priority groups “was not as effective” as for the population as a whole, the report said. Rollout to people with disabilities and those in aged care was “slower than planned” and it did not meet its target to vaccinate 80% of eligible Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. Indeed, of its nine wider measurable targets, the ANAO found that only six were met.

Listen: Stepping into the unknown, and embracing her flaws – and strengths – as a leader: GGF’s Leading Questions podcast with Australia’s governance chief Stephanie Foster

It also said that while the department did not incorporate the government’s target for the rollout into its early-stage planning, it did eventually put in place “effective monitoring and reporting arrangements using the best possible data”. However, it said it did not undertake “sufficient” reporting against its targets and “does not have the adequate assurance over the completeness and accuracy of the data and third-party systems”.

Planning ‘more effective’ as rollout progressed

The report found that the health department’s approach to planning “became more effective as the rollout progressed”, that it “identified and continually reassessed risks to the rollout, adapting its planning in response to realised risks”, and that it had developed a “fit-for-purpose” communication strategy.

It also described the governance arrangements established to manage the vaccine rollout as “largely effective” – senior level oversight was appropriate and stakeholder advisory groups were consulted regularly, it said.

Read more: Australian agencies ‘struggling to make data-driven decisions’

The report recommended that the Department of Health and Aged Care establish processes to ensure it regularly obtains and reviews assurance over the data quality and IT controls in place in externally managed systems “on a risk basis, including IT security, change management and batch processing”.

It also recommended that the department conduct its own “comprehensive” review into the vaccine rollout by the end of the year. It said this should invite contribution from all key government and non-government stakeholders; identify what worked well and what did not; and make recommendations to the government about opportunities for improvements in the event of a future vaccination rollout.  

The health department has agreed to both recommendations.

Future inquiry into government’s COVID response

The prime minister Anthony Albanese told the Sunday Agenda, an Australian news-focused TV talk show, that he would call a royal commission or similar inquiry in the government’s handling of the pandemic. He said it would focus primarily on the federal government response but would also assess state governments’ responses.

Read more: Were governments right to introduce COVID-19 vaccine mandates?

Albanese, who is leader of the Labor Party, took office in May this year following the federal election which ousted the Liberal/National Coalition headed by former PM Scott Morrison. It was Morrison’s government that led the country through the pandemic.  

“Quite clearly from opposition I said that I couldn’t envisage a circumstance where after you had a once-in-a-century global pandemic and an extraordinary response with the largest economic stimulus that we’ve ever seen… that you would just move on and not have an examination of what went well, how things can be improved and what lessons can come from it,” Albanese said.  

“Upon coming to government we’ve been dealing with another wave of COVID that has been the priority getting through but my government will give consideration to an appropriate form of analysis going on.”

The aim would be to “make sure if there is a future pandemic… we’re better prepared and we respond appropriately”, he said.

Read more: Australian Public Service Commission updates remote working guidance amid COVID case spike

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About Mia Hunt

Mia is a journalist and editor with a background in covering commercial property, having been market reports and supplements editor at trade title Property Week and deputy editor of Shopping Centre magazine, now known as Retail Destination. She has also undertaken freelance work for several publications including the preview magazine of international trade show, MAPIC, and TES Global (formerly the Times Educational Supplement) and has produced a white paper on energy efficiency in business for E.ON. Between 2014 and 2016, she was a member of the Revo Customer Experience Committee and an ACE Awards judge. Mia graduated from Kingston University with a first-class degree in journalism and was part of the team that produced The River newspaper, which won Publication of the Year at the Guardian Student Media Awards in 2010.

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