Vaccine providers may soon have to report all government-funded immunisations – including against COVID-19 – to the Australian Immunisation Register or face penalties, but the government has no plans to reimburse providers for their efforts.
The federal government has introduced a bill for an amendment to the Australian Immunisation Register Act which would enforce mandatory reporting of COVID-19 vaccinations from 1 March 2021, and all other vaccinations funded under the National Immunisation Program from 1 July 2021.
Speaking on the bill in parliament, Health Minister Greg Hunt said while reporting of vaccinations to the Australian Immunisation Register was currently voluntary and data for childhood immunisations was high, the reporting for adolescent and adult vaccines was far less complete.
Associate director of the National Centre for Immunisation Research and Surveillance Dr Frank Beard said the COVID-19 pandemic and potential cost of COVID-19 vaccination were the main drivers for the government’s shift in policy.
“Given the stakes in this and the amount of economic impact already, the amount of money that’s being poured into this vaccination program, the government really needs to be able to track how the rollout is going and how many people are getting vaccinated and where,” said Dr Beard, also senior lecturer at the University of Sydney School of Public Health.
Eligible vaccine providers currently earn up to $6 for each completed immunisation schedule for children under seven years that is reported to the register, and $6 for each completed catch-up schedule for children under seven.
However, a spokesperson for the Minister’s office said there will be no expansion of these payments to adolescent or adult vaccinations under the new policy.
The register currently requires providers to submit information on the patient’s Medicare number – if Medicare-eligible – and name, date of birth and address, as well as details of the vaccine brand, batch number, date, dose and provider details.
Mr Hunt told parliament that the data was used to monitor the effectiveness of vaccination programs, identify areas that might be at risk during disease outbreaks, inform policy, and to provide proof of vaccination for entry to childcare, school and for employment purposes.
A spokesperson for the Minister told The Medical Republic that there were strict privacy provisions governing access to data in the register – which are maintained in the new bill – and the data can only be access by the individual patient, vaccine providers and the registers administrators.
While the spokesperson said providers were not required to report an immunisation if it was likely to pose a risk to the health or safety of an individual, the office did not answer a specific question about whether individuals would have the choice to opt out of having their data reported to the register.
Dr Beard noted that there weren’t the same sensitivities around an individual’s vaccination record as there might be about their entire medical history, so the register didn’t have the same potential issues that My Health Record has had.
“I think the public would fully support this and expect that their vaccines are on there,” he said. “The vast majority of providers would support it in principle too.”