Tech helps power Singapore's Covid-19 vaccination drive

Behind each vaccination centre is a vast virtual infrastructure.
Behind each vaccination centre is a vast virtual infrastructure.ST PHOTO: ONG WEE JIN

SINGAPORE - In the race to get Singapore vaccinated against Covid-19 on schedule, technology has proven to be an invaluable tool.

Behind each of the country's 38 vaccination centres is a vast virtual infrastructure that captures, sorts and catalogues each jab to make the process as efficient as possible.

This digital backbone includes built-in solutions to pick up data discrepancies, as well as the flexibility to adapt to new circumstances should Singapore's vaccine strategy shift.

"Our mantra was that we didn't want IT to be the constraint," said Mr Bruce Liang, chief executive of public healthcare technology agency Integrated Health Information Systems (IHiS). "For almost every scenario we could think of, we tried to cater for a few options - so that when they wanted something, we could make it happen."

One solution involved developing software to catch errors - which can arise from people wrongly keying in their personal information when making vaccination appointments - before these are logged into databases and require human intervention to fix.

In other cases, foreigners may obtain Singapore citizenship between doses, causing the system - which tracks individuals by their identification numbers - to mistakenly identify them as having taken only a single dose.

"This happens more than you think, because the scale at which we are doing this is so large," said IHiS assistant chief executive Alan Goh, who is also deputy chairman of its VacTech workgroup.

In the initial stages of the vaccine roll-out in January, IHiS processed between 4,000 and 5,000 vaccination records daily. Each day, inconsistencies would feature in around 200 records, which would have to be corrected manually.

Today, its system logs up to 50,000 records a day. But software improvements have seen the number of cases requiring follow-up dwindle to just 20.

Mr Liang, who chairs the VacTech workgroup, recounted how his agency's experience in helping to set up community care facilities for Covid-19 patients taught him two things.

"One of them was that whatever timeline we were given, usually it would be brought forward," he said. "And whatever requirements that you were given, you just had to add on what (else) you think will come up - and they will ask for it."

It usually takes 10 days and many hands to transform an empty room - usually a multi-purpose hall in a community club - into a full-fledged vaccination centre.

Apart from ensuring the IT systems run smoothly, operators also have to train staff and have backup plans to keep vaccines chilled should the main power supply fail.

Some also add personal touches - for instance, setting up selfie walls for people to snap post-vaccination photos or giving away face masks.

The Minmed Group, which runs four vaccine centres, had to post a "security guard" near the exits to prevent people from wandering off post-vaccination.

"We realised some people were not aware they had to stay for 30 minutes," said its executive director Sharmaine Chng. "And some would go to the toilet and forget that they had to come back."

At Fullerton Health's 10 vaccination centres, wheelchairs are on standby for those with mobility issues and translators help people who do not speak English.

Its medical director Faizal Kassim said: "Since day one, we have seen ourselves changing and adapting to the different requirements of members of the public who come through our centre."