Managing Jamaica’s COVID-19 vaccine rollout digitally

UNICEF provided a digital health platform to assist Jamaican health workers

Naina Ahuja
Photograph of Yonique Malcolm, a community health worker using the CommCare digital health platform at the St Joseph’s Hospital vaccination site in Kingston.
28 July 2021

In response to the global COVID-19 pandemic, UNICEF, on behalf of the Global COVAX Facility, is leading the largest vaccine procurement and supply operation ever, taking place to ensure equitable access to 2 billion doses of the COVID-19 vaccine by the end of 2021.  

With a population of under 3 million, Jamaica has registered over 51,000 cases and suffered 1,163 COVID-related deaths to date (as of July 22nd, 2021). With the pandemic having a devastating impact on the well-being of Jamaican children, UNICEF Jamaica was quick to adjust its programming and support the Ministry of Health and Wellness’ (MOHW) efforts to combat the spread of the virus. In March 2021, one year after identifying its first COVID-19 case, Jamaica became the first Caribbean country to receive a shipment of COVAX-procured vaccines. 

Through a multi-lateral partnership with the Private Sector Vaccine Initiative (PSVI), formed specifically to address the COVID-19 crisis in Jamaica, and the MOHW, UNICEF supported the development and introduction of a digital vaccine information management platform for Jamaica’s national COVID-19 vaccine deployment. Identifying the need for a software platform to efficiently and securely manage the national vaccination roll-out, UNICEF brought on board Dimagi, a long-time partner in digital health, who had developed a secure, open-source platform called CommCare for the task.  

CommCare supports three key phases of vaccine delivery: screening, vaccination, and follow-up. The solution provides the MOHW with an end-to-end digital COVID-19 vaccine process to manage and record scheduling, patient screening, vaccine administrator checklists/documentation and reporting.  

In an incredible demonstration of strong leadership and drive by all partners, it took just over two months for the CommCare digital platform to be adapted for the Jamaican context and deployed in hospitals, health centres, and vaccination sites. Additionally, a training-of-trainers model ensured 150 master trainers being equipped with the knowledge and skills to train more than 1,000 healthcare workers across the island, including medical officers, primary healthcare nurses, medical records officers, and information technology officers.  

Since the vaccine roll-out in Jamaica had already started by the time CommCare was introduced, approximately 160,000 manual ledgers had to be entered in the digital platform by persons hired and equipped by UNICEF and the PSVI – an extension of the partnership with the public sector. Following a two-week transition period, the CommCare system was officially handed over to the Government of Jamaica and is now operational in all of Jamaica’s vaccination sites. Health workers and vaccine recipients are now enjoying the immediate benefits of a secure and time-saving digital process. 

Yonique Malcolm, a community health worker said, “Using the tablet saves me a lot of time – it’s about three times faster than the paper register. If someone has been vaccinated at another site, or they have lost their vaccination card, I can just pull up all the information on the tablet. Everything is quicker and more accurate.”  

Positive changes in health worker attitude to a digital system were observed almost immediately in the majority of users. Benefits such as improved workflow at vaccination sites, and the ease and efficiency of offline end-of-day reporting are also additional motivating factors to persuade health workers to move from paper-based to digital.  

The CommCare application quickly proved to be robust and captured the data required to manage and report on the vaccination roll-out. The strength of the public-private partnership between the Government of Jamaica, PSVI and UNICEF has demonstrated that digitalizing and modernizing public health administration is possible in a very short timeframe.  

The high level of engagement, strong leadership, and multi-sectoral effort was critical in the successful launch of an equitable and inclusive digital health platform for the deployment of the COVID-19 vaccines. The success of this initiative could potentially open the door to modernizing the entire routine immunization system, going beyond the COVID-19 vaccine alone.  

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