(Image: Mitchell Squire/Private Media)

The Morrison government is scrambling to talk up how many injections were delivered this week as the states begin to open mass vaccination centres. But there is little detail about which Australians are getting which vaccines each day, or what age groups, and other vital information that would help paint a picture of the program’s success, even in its early phase.

“If [Accenture] were paid $8 million, then where is their data?” Professor Peter Collignon at the Australian National University’s medical school said. “Knowing what’s happening with this vaccine is very important. The data is there. The more that is available the better.”

What’s going on?

In December, Health Minister Greg Hunt appointed Accenture as the lead data partner in tracking the vaccine, and promised granular data on every dose, including temperature monitoring throughout the process.

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Currently the government’s efforts to inform the public about the progress of the vaccine are limited to an infographic uploaded to the Health Department’s website sporadically — sometimes weekly, sometimes daily.

It’s a far cry from the real-time tracking system Hunt had promised. So has Accenture failed to deliver or is the data just not being shared with the public?

Accenture is one of the government’s preferred consultancy firms, raking in hundreds of millions of dollars every year in contracts. In February it won a $114 million contract with the Defence Department to help transform the government’s vetting systems over four years. Former defence minister Christopher Pyne cut the ribbon on an Accenture innovation hub for defence and national security in 2018.

But it’s the latest contract that health experts say warrants more scrutiny as the government tries to “reset” its troubled vaccine rollout.

Accenture declined to comment and the Health Department did not respond directly to Crikey’s questions but in a statement said the government had “full oversight of vaccines in Australia”.

“The department continues to work with and seek expertise from the private sector to inform the rollout, with aspects including program delivery, logistics, administration of vaccines and data support,” it said.

Collignon says the most critical information needed was a breakdown of AstraZeneca and Pfizer doses and the age of vaccine recipients.

“There’s a lot of information that should be coming out on at least a weekly basis,” he said. “We need to know how much [of the Pfizer vaccine] is coming in, and how much is approved on a week-by-week basis.”

Vaccine honeypot

The Accenture deal is more evidence of the government trying to solve problems by throwing money at consultancy firms that have fed off the taxpayer throughout the pandemic.

As Crikey revealed on Friday, the government has paid McKinsey $25,000 a day to investigate the business case for manufacturing an mRNA vaccine onshore, long after experts called for it. There’s been little detail about what McKinsey’s $2.2 million business case entails, or whether the government has taken its advice.

Stephen Duckett from the Grattan Institute says there was no reason why McKinsey should be the only company looking into the business case for onshore mRNA manufacturing.

“It’s not a unique skill set McKinsey has so they should not have been the only ones looking into it,” he said.

But he says the bigger problem was timing: “Why didn’t they do it six months ago? We are late in the game and at the end of the queue.”

Australia is producing only the AstraZeneca vaccine locally, and experts have slammed the government for not investing in local manufacture of mRNA vaccines.

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Peter Fray
Peter Fray
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