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Govt to stop COVID-19 vaccine drive for two days as CoWin app gets upgrade; self-registration to be allowed

India’s COVID-19 immunisation drive will be halted temporarily on February 27 and February 28, as the CoWIN application — the backbone of the government’s COVID19 immunisation effort — gets upgraded from version 1.0 to 2.0, the Health Ministry announced. The upgraded application will presumably be open for registrations from Monday (March 1). The CoWIN app has seen several glitches over the past month, which has hindered the immunisation process in several cities (more on that below).

As part of the upgrade, the CoWIN portal will be open to registration to all those above 60 years of age, and to those above 45 with co-morbidities. Eligible beneficiaries will be able to self-register themselves on the upgraded CowIN as well as Aarogya Setu, which was integrated with CoWIN functionalities earlier this month, the Ministry announced on Friday. It will also allow beneficiaries to choose their vaccination centre.

Ability to choose vaccination centre, timeslot: People registering themselves on CoWIN will be able to choose their own vaccination centre — both public and private (which will now be involved in the immunisation effort).

“[T]he fundamental shift in this phase is that citizens in the identified age groups, as also those healthcare workers and frontline who have been missed out or left out of the present phase of vaccination, can select vaccination centres of their choice” — Health Ministry press release (emphasis added)

During self-registration by beneficiaries, they will get a list of government and private hospitals serving as COVID-19 Vaccination Centres (CVC) along with date and time of slot availability that they can choose.

No choice of vaccines: However, beneficiaries won’t be able to choose between the vaccines they will be administered, said RS Sharma, chair of the Empowered Group on Vaccine Administration, in an interview with NDTV on Thursday.

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Aadhaar and voter ID cards preferred: All beneficiaries of vaccines (self-registered or otherwise) are being encouraged to use either their Aadhaar or Electoral Photo Identity Card (EPIC). “The beneficiary will have to show a photo ID document for proof of age (preferably Aadhar card or EPIC card) and certificate of co-morbidity (if required),” the government release read.

However, the CoWIN portal will allow other photo ID cards while registration, which would have to be produced at the CVC. Which photo ID cards will be accepted have not been specified yet.

Aarogya Setu only one “inlet”: In his interview, Sharma said that Aarogya Setu, with its several million users in the country, would serve as an inlet for people to register themselves for vaccines. At the same time, they would be able to register using the CoWIN website, IVRS and call centres or go to any of the 250,000 seva kendras (common service centres) in the rural parts of the country, he said.

Four appointments per smartphone: When asked how people without smartphones could register using CoWIN, Sharma said that the system has been designed to allow people to use other people’s smartphones as well. “We haven’t made it compulsary that you have to do it on your smartphone. So you can do from a smartphone of a friend or person you know. In one mobile phone, you can make four appointments. If I have a feature phone, I can use somebody’s smartphone to make four appointments and that message will come to my feature phone. These four people can get different appointments is also.” “There are 700 million smartphones in the country, there are 1.2 mobile connections in this country. This country is not the same country it was 10 years ago.”

Glitches mar use of CoWIN

The CoWIN application and ecosystem have been marred with glitches since the beginning of the immunisation effort. States and cities across the country (example: Bengaluru, Pune, Ahmedabad)  have reported glitches that have delayed the vaccination effort.  Multiple beneficiaries have not received SMSs alerting them about where and when they need to go to get the vaccine. At some centres, the CoWIN system did not allow for beneficiary data to be entered in the first place.

However, Sharma, in his interview with NDTV, downplayed the reports as a “myth”. He said “There were glitches in the beginning, a couple of days — two, three days — and thereafter we fixed it. So there are no glitches as of now, neither related to scalability or bugs in the system.”

Glitches related to data entry, not CoWIN system: Sharma said that the reports of glitches were because of how the data of beneficiaries were entered into the system, and not because of faults in the CoWIN system itself. “What I am saying is that data was uploaded by the state. Typically what happened was that this data was received in Excel sheets and some records did not have correct mobile number. If you don’t have the mobile number, the SMS gateway will not accept these numbers. Similarly, if you upload a duplicate data of beneficiary, obviously duplicates will come. Thirdly, one complaint was that the system was not allowing second vaccination. Obvisouly if you did not enter the first vaccination event in the system, the system does not know that the second vaccination is happeneing. This is a data problem. If it was a software problem, every state would have faced it right?”

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***Update (March 1): Updated parts of the post that had earlier said the upgraded CoWIN app will allow beneficiaries to register themselves. The registrations will happen through the CoWIN website, as clarified by the Health Ministry on March 1. 

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