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Supply lag temporary, all will get vaccinated fairly

The CoWin platform has been inundated after registrations opened for the 18-44 group. The crush will ease with increased supplies, National Health Authority head R S Sharma told Sushmi Dey. Excerpts from the interview:

One finds a lot of noise around CoWin at present, mainly with users not finding a slot while trying to schedule appointments.
CoWin facilitates registration of users and scheduling of vaccination slots, besides other utilities. While registration is open to all, scheduling is a function of availability and supply of vaccines. For instance, if only 100 passenger trains seating a thousand passengers are running daily, and 10 lakh people log into IRCTC to book, we know where the issue stems from. Further, the noise started surfacing particularly after registrations for18 to 44 years age group were opened. You will be amazed to learn how steeply skewed the demand-supply for vaccines is. The ratio stands at 6.5:1, which was an alarming 11:1 a week ago. As the supply catches up with demand, this noise around CoWin will be put to rest, since it’s unfounded.

While slots are sometimes visible in green, they are booked by the time one enters the captcha. Is this situation expected to improve?
Comparison of registrations through CoWin with a fastest finger first contest or lottery is a fallacy. There are no winners-take-all here, as the limitation in supply of vaccines is only temporary. The transparency CoWin facilitates ensures there is no information asymmetry. As the supply of vaccines catches up with demand, all citizens should rest assured that everyone will get their vaccination fairly and equitably.

What is the current backlog of registered users waiting to book a slot and how many of them are in 18-44 age bracket?
Over 23 crore users have been registered till May 21, with 15 crore having been administered at least one dose and 4 crore both doses. However, what is interesting is that 5.5 crore out of the 9 crore backlog comes from the 18 to 44 bracket. This is primarily attributable to shortfall in supply, which is evident from various state governments restricting vaccinations for this age group.

What is the objective behind making online booking of vaccination slot mandatory for people in the 18-44 age band?
CoWin drives the administration of vaccination in India. However, it only follows the policy for administration of vaccination, which is driven by the central government. This policy is constantly evolving based on availability of vaccine supply. We are not against walkins, as near 57% of the 19 crore vaccines administered have been walk-ins.

CoWin has faced criticism for creating a digital divide, leading to discrimination against those who are on the other side of technology. Some feel it is impacting vaccine equity, particularly in rural areas and those without access to internet or smartphone.
A centralised digital system in CoWin builds faith in citizens, allowing for a single source of truth for all stakeholders. To make the system accessible to all, we have simplified the registration process. Monosyllabic/single word questions have been used to overcome language barriers. To further aid this concern, we are soon launching the option to choose from 14 vernaculars. Sign-ups and registrations only demand mobile numbers, name, age, and gender. CoWin provides up to seven options for identification. We have equipped 250,000-plus Community Service Centres (CSCs) to assist rural citizens with registrations. Additionally, we are in the process of initiating call centres at NHA (National Health Authority) to help individuals sign up over phone calls. It is also vital to challenge the narrative of no access to internet in rural India. If we put data into perspective, 150 million people have downloaded the Aarogya Setu, more than 3 billion UPI transactions take place every month, 60 million users have registered on DigiLocker and 4.28 billion digi-documents have been issued.

Does CoWin prioritise data collection more than vaccination coverage?
The claim that technology enables data collection and does not facilitate vaccination coverage is an oxymoron. CoWin ensures a person takes the same vaccine the first and the second time, while accurately defining the time interval between the two doses based on the brand. No personally sensitive data is collected that may threaten individual privacy.

How would you address concerns about vacancy search scripts like Paytm or Telegram adding to the digital divide as well as creating a risk of exposure of medical data to third party?
CoWin APIs have been opened up to third party developers to aid larger outreach. These APIs only allow citizens to check available slots in nearby centres and access their vaccination certificates. Registrations have been centralised through CoWin to prevent any proxies and safeguard the rails. For instance, the authentication at the time of registration requires a phone number and an OTP, along with a Captcha check that prevents any scripts bypassing registration. We have further strengthened the system by introducing a 4-digit security code. There is no disadvantage to the public at large as these APIs cannot just be picked online to favour any individual. ToI