Yesterday Sir David Norgrove, Chair of the UK Statistics Authority wrote to the Public Administration and Constitutional Affairs Committee (PACAC) in response to its request for evidence for its Data transparency and accountability: COVID-19 inquiry.

Sir David Norgrove’s letter included an annex from the Office for Statistics Regulation (OSR) responding to the committee’s questions. The annex sets out OSR’s views on statistics production and use during the pandemic.

Since the start of the pandemic Governments across the UK have maintained a flow of data which has been quite remarkable. New data collections have been established swiftly, existing collections have been amended or added to, and data sources have been linked together in new ways to provide additional insight.

However, there are areas where we would like to see more progress. Our letters to Government producers of statistics, published on 1 December 2020 and 20 January 2021, outlined our expectations. We would like producers to move quickly to make progress on:

  • More granular data on percentage take up: There should be more detail by age band, ethnic group and by Joint Committee on Vaccination and Immunisation (JCVI) priority groups. Some of this information is available in some administrations within the UK but not others. For example, information on the percentages of individuals in each priority group that have been vaccinated to date is available for both Scotland and Wales. Northern Ireland data are included in the UK dashboard, but there is no orderly release of more granular data in Northern Ireland itself.
  • Vaccine type: It is in the public interest to have information on vaccine type (Pfizer BioNTech or AstraZeneca), particularly in the context of questions around vaccine efficacy and sustainability of supply. Scotland is currently the only administration to routinely publish this information.
  • Vaccine take-up: Information on those who have been offered a vaccine and those who have taken them up would help with understanding the reasons why some people may not be taking up vaccines, for example whether it is refusals, access, or because they have not actually received an invitation to have a vaccine.

Routine publication of data in these areas would support public understanding of the pandemic and demonstrate governments’ commitment to transparency. For example, we continue to see instances of data being quoted publicly that are not in the public domain. Most recently, at the Downing Street briefing on 3 February, the Government announced that the vaccination programme had delivered 10 million vaccinations in the United Kingdom, including almost 90% of those aged over 75 and every eligible person in a care home.

At the time this statement was made these figures were not published. Additional age breakdowns have now been published for England by NHS England (on 4 February). However, our view remains that this it is poor practice to announce figures selectively from a dataset when the underlying data are not yet published.

The letter also makes clear that there is intensive work taking place to provide more comprehensive vaccinations data, both by each of the UK’s four governments, and through cross-UK collaboration. The broader range of issues highlighted can be seen in the full response.

Ed Humpherson, head of the Office for Statistics Regulation, said:

“During the pandemic, the performance of Government statisticians and analysts across the UK has been remarkable. Over the last two months, they have worked intensively to provide the public with a comprehensive picture of the roll-out of vaccinations. They are now building on this foundation, aiming to provide the more granular data that are now needed to enhance public understanding.”