New Zealand tracks meningitis vaccine

NZ National Immunistaion (cq) Register

WELLINGTON, New Zealand -- New Zealand's Ministry of Health has released a computerized National Immunisation Register (NIR) to track the administration of meningococcal B vaccinations. In the past nine months, more than a half million people have received the vaccines, which are a major component of the country’s battle against the disease epidemic, which has plagued New Zealand since 1991.

Debbie Chin, the ministry's deputy director general of corporate and information, said the NIR is the Rolls-Royce of information technology systems. It was developed to support an immunization program that ministry officials hope will thwart a meningococcal – or spinal meningitis – epidemic that has caused 218 deaths in more than 5,000 cases. The NIR has had some glitches, but nothing out of the ordinary, she added.

The NIR contains information such as the names of infected children, their parents or guardians, clinicians, and immunizations. According to the NIR fact sheet, this data provides the ministry with a powerful management tool, including quick access to a child’s immunization records. It also allows the ministry and clinicians to focus on populations with historically low immunization rates, including Maoris and Pacific Islanders.

Heather Roy, a member of New Zealand’s Parliament, said in a speech earlier this week that the NIR, which cost more than $5 million to develop, had more than 150 software bugs and failed to register or incorrectly recorded data on more than 11,000 children who had been immunized.

Chin said the 150 software bugs were not a concern. The registry is quickly becoming the central repository of information for all New Zealanders younger than 19 who receive spinal meningitis immunizations, Chin said.

Ian McCrae, chief executive officer of Orion Systems International, said Roy's attacks on the NIR need to be put in the "context of New Zealand’s election year, when it is natural that publicly funded technology projects should come under additional scrutiny from opposition parties."

McCrae said the NIR had some problems when it was launched last November, but added that none of the system's bugs have affected the system’s integrity.

The NIR experienced some transmission problems with NIR messages handled by Orion’s HealthLink partner, which provides secure messaging systems for clinicians in New Zealand and Australia, McCrae said. However, no one missed a vaccination, he added.

Orion and NIR handle more than 200,000 complex messages a week, he said.

Chin said NIR integrates a wide spectrum of the New Zealand health care sectors, ranging from midwives to doctors to the health ministry itself. The success of NIR is self-evident, Chin said. "We never had it better," he said.

McCrae said he understood the vital importance of the NIR, adding that Orion will work with the ministry to fix problems as they arise.

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