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The importance of high-quality data standards has never been clearer than now in our public health information technology history. It’s impossible to know 100% what data will be important in the future or what event will occur (natural, emerging, bioterrorism, or government requested) that requires functionality that was previously ignored to take center stage. This is best exemplified by a recent discovery in the STChealth core immunization information system product.

Joe Kelly, STC’s CTO, said, “For over 25 years, this IIS has provided states with the ability to collect, store and use patient immunization events to support their immunization activities. Collecting data is one thing but the value is in using this data. The current pandemic recently shed light on a few data elements long in existence but not utilized to any great extent—specifically race and ethnicity codes.”

He went on to say, “As reporting on these data elements became a pandemic priority, we discovered a software ‘bug’ deep within the code that reduced the accuracy of reports specific to these demographic elements. No existing public health STC jurisdictions had ever required a report on this data and as such, the information being collected was not complete. It was not until this became a key reporting element during the pandemic that our software team at STChealth discovered this bug, which had been in existence for 19 years.”

This situation highlights why every corner of the data collection and reporting efforts for IIS must always operate at 100%.  A 19-year-old bug highlights the importance of evolving the data quality efforts within IIS as well as leveraging evolving technology and software development practices to ensure these significant health data assets continue to be the trusted source of all thing’s immunization.  STC’s vision is simple. The days of health information technology systems being simple data collection registries for historical record storage and limited provider user access are soon to be history.  The systems of a post-2020 pandemic society must be able to capture significantly more information in real-time, ensure the highest quality of incoming records and, most importantly, provide real-time insights for situational awareness, outbreak risk mitigation, resource distribution and allocations—expanding the vaccine-preventable disease ecosystem to larger provider communities, researchers and, most importantly, the consumer. 

Tiffany Dent, STC’s VP of Customer Experience said it best when she said, “Affecting what happens, not seeing what happened, is the single most important paradigm shift required of public health and the systems that support these professionals.”

Vaccine fatigue? Is it possible to talk too much about vaccines and accidentally begin to alienate populations by doing so? Probably. Is all this talk contributing to vaccine hesitancy? Most likely. How will all the COVID-19 vaccine talk impact the need to ensure traditional vaccines continue as scheduled? It is not going to help.

That’s where a reset comes in handy. Every decade, the  U.S. creates a Healthy People plan. In early 2020, this was articulated in the Healthy People 2030 Plan which addresses all public health challenges. The plan establishes goals and measurable metrics that are targets to be achieved over the course of a decade. Establishing this vision and aligning health communities to achieve the goals serves the purpose of improving the public’s health. In the 2030 Plan, as in all prior, there are a series of immunization goals for various population demographics.

The public health challenge has always been to achieve these goals and it is not easy. In 2019, STChealth created a national leadership organization called “30 for 2030 – Innovation in Immunization.” The invited members took on the challenge to not only meet the immunization goals in this plan but to exceed them using data as collected in state Immunization Information Systems (IIS). A significant opportunity was identified by this STC lead group—that we could overcome vaccine hesitancy and achieve higher goals if we could use data and target education, outreach and resources. Such was the start of the overall set of plans the members were developing.

Then the pandemic happened. No one cared about traditional vaccines anymore, as the new COVID-19 vaccine was supposed to be the answer. Then the COVID-19 vaccine arrived. Todd Watkins, STChealth President, recently said, “As more vaccines became available, more who were standing are choosing simply not to line up at all.” For over 12 months with few options to continue routine child wellness check-ups or require immunizations for schools, the continuous COVID-19 vaccine news, vaccine hesitancy on social media and the spread of vaccine misinformation have created one more invisible barrier to any immunization.

World Immunization Week is an opportunity to refocus on all vaccines—not just the COVID-19 vaccine. But what will it take to overcome this vaccine fatigue? Will the STChealth 30 for Healthy People 2030 members be able to emphasize the importance of all vaccines in this new environment? Yes? Again, it will require using data. STChealth analytical systems can identify pockets of need for all immunizations. Our systems can monitor the effectiveness of programs the 30 for 2030 want to test, as one result of the pandemic is more real-time connections from providers and pharmacists to the IIS.

Exceeding the 2030 immunization goals is now more important than ever. And now there is just one more barrier to overcome. But, STC and our partners across the immunization ecosystem are up to the challenge.