Strengthening CoWIN platform towards universal vaccination

By Arjun Kumar, Ritika Gupta, Kashish Babbar, Chhavi Kapoor, Rohit Mehta

‘The pursuit of equality should not mean the abandonment of digital systems; instead, efforts should be undertaken to make the digital systems inclusive,’ said Dr R S Sharma, CEO, National Health Authority (NHA), Ministry of Health and Family Welfare, Government of India in a webinar organized by Center for ICT for Development (CICTD), IMPRI Impact and Policy Research Institute, New Delhi and The Dialogue on Strengthening CoWIN platform towards Universal Vaccination on June 16, 2021.

In times of scarcity and high demand, the search for essential commodities often results in situations of chaos, confusion and exploitation. Dr Sharma elaborated that the risk of such situations provides an adequate reason for the government to rely on digital infrastructure despite the significant concern of the digital divide.

For the vaccination process, there has been a significant gap between supply and demand. Thus, for it to be efficient, the digital infrastructure needs to be accommodated to provide mobility and portability to the people. Moreover, it plays an important role in delivering transparency and removing the asymmetry of information by providing digital certificates within few minutes of getting vaccinated. This also ensures that the appropriate second dose is given at the right time.

The fundamental guiding principle is to keep the platform people-centric. To enable this, simplest way was to have the OTP mechanism with mobile numbers allowing registration of upto four people. With a country having 1 billion mobile connections and 600 million smartphone users, using mobile numbers as a registration made sense.

Dr Sharma also elaborated 80 percent of India’s vaccination have taken place through walk-ins. Registration on the platform is only one step of the process; there are other moving parts such as hospital on boarding wherein hospitals release vacancies and schedule doses; thirdly, vaccinator’s module deals with identity verification, vaccination and thereafter upload information immediately and the last part delivery of digital certificate. Online registration is required for the first part only that too with minimal data making it a convenient process. To be more inclusive, the platform is multi-lingual coping the needs for the people in different states.

In reference to the problems, he stated that most originate due to human error. However, people invariably blame the platform for issues that are beyond its scope.

He concluded by shedding light on two fundamental principles that guide their work; one is the aim to make the CoWIN platform – the technology backbone that ultimately works under the overall policy guidelines of the government. The other is to work constantly on making the platform citizen-friendly. Thus, the platform has been working to partner with party applications such as Aarogya Setu. Further, many other partner applications will be incorporated to ensure that citizens have access to better user interfaces while ensuring that a single source of truth exists.

Shri Abhishek Singh, President and CEO, National e-Governance Division (NeGD), Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology (MeitY), Government of India stressed how they operated on a smaller scale with much simpler dynamics than CoWIN that has to deal with complexities that arise due to the broader scope and the need for multiple doses.

Additionally, he stated that the need for digital certificates especially comes to the forefront with the increasing necessity of travel, considering that international states would never accept paper certificates. He also states that functionalities have been added to maximize optimacy as and when concerns have arisen. Thus it’s essential to acknowledge that the system has been responsive, agile and has evolved according to the situation. The massive numbers of registrations on the platform and the ability to track all information are testaments to the successful functioning of the platform.

Mr Singh stated that while risks exist, as long as the authorities are aware of how the system operates and newer functionalities are being added, all challenges can be addressed. He also appreciated the integration of the CoWIN platform with the Aarogya Setu and other third-party applications, which can then be used as effective tools for tracking the status of vaccination. To conclude, he stated that the CoWIN platform constitutes a clear, well-designed architecture. It allows for open APIs and establishes a trust-based system with citizens to provide to the world an example that they can follow.

Shri Amit Dubey, Founder, India Future Foundation; National Cyber Security Expert, elaborated upon how in creating a secure platform, the challenges of flexibility arise wherein transparency has to be balanced with privacy. He stated that the CoWIN platform is secure, and it passes all security assessments better than some private enterprises. Therefore from a security perspective, the platform has no issues. However, the primary challenge is keeping the public perception intact over a long period, especially when security is a continuous process. He argues that vested parties will attempt to create distrust and such attempts need to be foiled through the institution of monitoring bodies.

Mr John Santosh, Entrepreneur and Technocrat, tailored his address to provide five solutions to make the platform more efficient. The first is to enable Voice on the platform for those who cannot read any language. It would entail allowing citizens to record their responses. The second is to develop an SMS bot for mass awareness campaigns. While referring to the infrastructure that existed at the time of demonetization for creating awareness, Mr John argued that the same infrastructure should be revived. His third solution concerned itself with promoting the concept of One-Click Vaccination through utilizing digital tools that already exist. His fourth solution presents the possibility of CoWIN for corporations to organize health check and vaccination campaigns, thereby making the vaccination process a part of CSR. His final recommendation put forth a case for instituting Vaccine Warriors through provisions of financial incentive. Further, Mr Santosh emphasized reducing data entry on the CoWIN platform, especially the role of humans so that errors can be avoided.

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