Ahead of Wednesday’s meeting between Prime Minister Narendra Modi and state chief ministers, RS Sharma, who heads the empowered committee for vaccination technology, spoke to Nivedita Mookerji on a range of issues including walk-in versus appointment for a jab, late data entry by some hospitals, the need to step up supply and more. Edited excerpts:
How’s the technology platform for Covid vaccination, CoWin, going now?
The glitches have been settled. The only problem we have now is that hospitals don’t follow the system of vaccination many times. When a person is vaccinated and the data is not entered, he’s not able to download a certificate. … So if proper authentication or data entry is not done, people sometimes blame the system without knowing what has gone wrong.
There have been reports that hospitals are violating the vaccination system. If true, is action being taken?
We have all the data. We know how many people were scheduled for vaccination in which hospital. Again from the data we know how many people have been vaccinated. So we can find out how many were no-shows and how many were sent back. We can always investigate after speaking to them to find out whether they did not go to hospital that day or if they had to return without vaccination. So investigation into the issue can be done even at a later date. We have digital evidence of every vaccination that’s taking place. If somebody’s vaccination is being shown at 9 pm, it means real time data entry didn’t happen. We have given sufficient instruction and documents to hospitals to ensure scheduled people are not returned and that walk-in can happen after 3 pm.
So, walk-ins are not allowed before 3 pm?
Private hospitals have been told to do walk-ins after 3 pm. It shouldn’t be that you allow walk-ins from morning and those with appointments don’t get their turn for vaccination. In public hospitals, many people may not be able to register, so walk-ins have been allowed all day. Walk-in should not be allowed at the cost of those with appointments—that’s the point.
What’s the plan for the next round of vaccination? Will it be for the 50 plus age group or for all?
That will be decided by the government on the recommendation of the vaccination expert group.
What about opening up the vaccination process?
The government has been very liberal in opening up. It’s opened to CGHS, Ayushman Bharat hospitals, state government hospitals. Also, if there’s any other hospital that states recommend, it can be opened up further. You have to understand that the government has to give account for each vial of vaccine. And because of the online system, we know exactly how many vaccinations were done by which entity. We also know who were the people vaccinated, who’ve been vaccinated once and who’s got the second dose. Even for people with co-morbidities, we are keeping records of the doctors making recommendations so that if there’s any dispute or allegation on a future date, it can be addressed. I’m not sounding a warning bell, I’m just stating that the data is there for any post facto verification of facts.
Will corporate groups have a role?
If any corporate group owns hospitals with the required facilities for vaccination, they can cater to their employees there. They have to cater to others (in the community) as well.
Is there a vaccine supply constraint right now?
Ultimately, we have to understand that we don’t have the supply at the population scale. Therefore, it has to be prioritised. That’s what the government has done.
What’s your take on the pricing of vaccines?
I can’t comment on pricing….
Are you working with any private players for CoWin?
We believe in strategic control of the system. …
This could be a continuous process as we may have to get vaccinated once in six months or one year… Are you working in that direction?
This system will be useful in many other situations also. It can be used in our universal immunization programme and for future vaccination programmes. The system is scalable and we can go up to even 1 crore (10 million) vaccinations a day. We are also using it for issuing unique health IDs for the National Health Digital Mission. That’s one of the important spinoffs. Business Standard