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We need to up our vaccination data game

As noted before, it gets harder from here.

As the initial mad rush for COVID-19 vaccines wanes, Texas is shifting its distribution strategy to focus on smaller providers, setting up a crucial test for the state as it attempts not only to get shots in arms but also to track that information accurately.

Over the past five months, Texas health officials have focused on allotting vaccines to mass vaccination sites, pharmacies, hospitals and local health departments that distribute thousands of doses a week — introducing a mammoth data collection effort that stressed the state’s already troubled reporting system. Officials say the new strategy will help target communities that have so far been hesitant to get shots by working with local pharmacies and public health organizations.

“Vaccination has slowed,” Imelda Garcia, the chair of Texas’ Expert Vaccine Allocation Panel, said during a Thursday news briefing. “It seems we’re getting to the point that most people eager to get vaccinated have gotten at least their first dose, so the next phase will be about helping ensure that vaccine is more easily available to those folks who are not going to go as far out of their way.”

The effort will be supplemented by a $1.5 million ad buy targeting vaccine hesitancy, alongside an in-person push in Walmart parking lots to tout the benefits of the vaccine. The state will host about two dozen pop-up events over the next several weeks; the first took place Thursday in south Austin.

“We’ve seen a reduction in vaccine requests coming from our big hub providers, and that means continuing the shift from the mass vaccination sites to regular providers like doctor’s offices and pharmacies,” Garcia said.


As vaccine allocations ramped up dramatically over the past month, agencies administering the shots have reported glitches or other issues with the state’s vaccine tracking portal, ImmTrac2.

“We feel we’re getting the data in an appropriate amount of time,” said Patti Foster, chief operations officer of Texas Emergency Hospital in Liberty County. “We’ve just been very frustrated with the ImmTrac system.”

The ImmTrac portal works with the state’s Vaccine Allocation & Ordering System, which providers use to request doses. While the VAOS program runs relatively smoothly, ImmTrac has repeatedly undercounted the number of people who have been vaccinated.

The errors threatened weekly vaccine allocations. State officials would look at the bad data and think that the provider was not using its entire vaccine stockpile, potentially deciding to allocate fewer doses the next time around.

Providers said they usually receive a call from the state when that happens, and they’re able to work it out. Still, it’s a frustrating and time-consuming problem, especially as providers sometimes have to tell several different state employees the same problem again and again.

“It’s been a very cumbersome process, and you have to really stay on top of it,” said Jennifer Harrison, the senior director of clinical operations at UT Health Austin.

The state’s vaccine administration numbers have also been unreliable. For nearly two weeks, the state’s dashboard has indicated that Cochran County — with a population of 3,100 people just west of Lubbock — had vaccinated more than 95 percent of its 16-and-over population. That error occurred because of a coding problem, state officials said, but it has yet to be fixed.

State health officials say they are dealing with “hundreds of thousands of doses from thousands of providers” and are getting to the bottom of problems as they arise.

See here for the background. I don’t have any insight to offer here – this story was my introduction to ImmTrac2 and the Vaccine Allocation & Ordering System – other than to say data is often messy, and big IT projects always have kinks in them. The state could certainly allocate more resources to these projects, but in the end the implementation is going to have its share of bumps. How we handle them over the next couple of months will help determine where we end up in percentage of the population vaccinated.

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