'People on the wait list will be accommodated for vaccination when the scheduled beneficiaries don't turn up.'
Many states have raised concerns over technology glitches in the vaccination delivery platform Co-WIN.
R S Sharma, who chairs the empowered committee on technology for the Covid vaccine, tells Nivedita Mookerji what went wrong with Co-Win during the first few days, the scale-up exercise, plans for a flexible system, vaccine hesitancy, and more.
How has it been going for you as chairman of the technology platform (Co-WIN) for Covid vaccine?
I entered the system (in the newly appointed panel for Co-WIN) on January 9. I have reviewed the system and found small software glitches, which we are removing. But we have to scale up the software to cover up to 1.3 billion -- which is one-sixth of humanity. Nobody has done this kind of a thing on the planet.
What really went wrong in the first three days with Co-WIN that many states had to go manual with the vaccine tracking and delivery process?
They were minor glitches; I will give you an example. Ultimately, the vaccines are limited. You have, for instance, invited some 100 people for vaccination at a centre and perhaps only 20 turned up. For a variety of reasons, many didn't turn up.
The system was designed in such a manner that if 100 were invited, they would all come and get vaccinated, and there would be another list the next day, and so on. When that didn't happen, glitches occurred.
Now we have to make the system flexible to accommodate people who have registered for today, tomorrow, and the day after.
The new system will be like RAC (reservation against cancellation used widely in the Indian Railways).
People on the wait list will be accommodated for vaccination when the scheduled beneficiaries don't turn up. We didn't have that flexibility for the first few days.
So, how do you go about making the system robust?
We have to do it in a way that is citizen-centric. That is, from vaccinating only health workers, we have to roll it out for much larger numbers in future.
There is no doubt that this is the largest programme in the world. Through Co-Win, we are designing a system which is scalable and which is citizen-friendly.
Self-registration will be introduced so that people can mention when and at which place they want to be vaccinated closer home.
While Aadhaar infrastructure will help in authenticating the process, digital certificates -- provisional or final -- will be given once vaccination is done.
What else needs to be done?
We plan to eliminate any information asymmetry.
Registration can be done through multiple channels including the Aarogya Setu app, mobile phone, helpline or on the Web.
Right now, we are dealing with a captive audience -- health and frontline workers. That system is scaling up and adding new components like real time dashboard and information system.
What is the broad objective of the panel that you are chairing?
I am responsible for making a robust technology platform and backbone to ensure vaccination is transparent, traceable, citizen-friendly and that there is no information asymmetry. That's the broad objective and we will ensure that.
Certain things are non-negotiable. For instance, real time recording of the vaccination event is very important because that is the only way we can follow up with people later on.
Also, people should authenticate themselves so that there is no room for proxy. So, we are focusing on a robust authentication of system, recording of real time events and immediate issuance of certificate.
There is very little information on the technology backend of Co-Win. Who owns it and who operates it? Are there any IT companies managing it?
We are doing it and the strategic ownership is with the Government of India. Software developers may be there ,but the overall ownership is with the government.
Who in the government manages it? Is it NIC (National Informatics Centre)?
I have created a group now with people from NIC and other government departments who will take ownership of Co-Win.
You are also a member of the National Expert Group on Vaccine Administration of COVID-19. What is your assessment of the vaccine hesitancy mood in India?
There is a lot of fake news on risks and adverse effects of vaccination. That has created some fear in the minds of people. I think that is completely baseless.
The initial anxiety will go away and people will go for vaccination with confidence I am sure. That's my sense. Of course, it is a subjective thing.
Is the government doing anything to build citizen trust in vaccine?
The government is telling the truth while some people are doing campaigns against vaccines saying they are not safe, etc.