Indian tech experts have written software code and designed websites to help people book rare COVID-19 vaccinations online, raising concerns about an unfair advantage for tech experts and jeopardizing the odds fair deployment of vaccines.
India has been criticized for a slow vaccination campaign as it battles a second wave of coronavirus infections which sees around 350,000 new cases recorded every day. Only 2% of its 1.3 billion inhabitants have been fully immunized.
The government also opened vaccination for adults from May 1, but registration on its CoWIN website is mandatory for people between the ages of 18 and 44. Time slots are difficult to obtain as demand far exceeds supply.
In an effort to streamline the process, IT experts have used the publicly accessible coding of the CoWIN platform to create websites that show results every few minutes after performing automated searches of the government website. .
Alerts are emailed and routed to several Telegram app newsgroups where thousands of people wait.
Berty Thomas, 35, automated a search to book a slot himself, then created a website – under45.in – that checks slots and sends alerts to around 100,000 people in 60 Telegram groups in different cities. .
“I’m happy that I can use my skills to help people get vaccinated,” said Thomas, an investment banker based in the southern city of Chennai.
Shyam Sunder said his website – getjab.in – notifies users via email when slots are available. Some 80,000 people from 400 districts across the country had registered on his site, he said.
But the technological workarounds come under criticism from those who say they are sacrificing the goal of vaccine equity in a country where many people – especially in rural areas – lack the resources. digital skills to join online hunting.
“What we need: a free and fair vaccination policy. What we have: Technicians using scripts to quickly book all of the small vaccine slots that open, ”said Twitter user Rakshith.
RS Sharma, chairman of the government panel running the CoWIN platform, told Reuters that security measures were in place and that there was no unfair use of the booking platform, which according to he got 55,000 visits per second.
To reserve a spot, CoWIN website users must log in with their cell phone number and obtain a one-time password, before starting their hunt for immunization centers using an area code or district name.
In the short time it takes, the slots are often taken over.
But automated alerts do not offer any guarantees. A Wednesday morning alert for some snaps posted on a Telegram group for the city of Bengaluru had more than 100 comments, with only a few saying they were successful, while others complaining that the slots had disappeared in one no time.
“He showed me 80 locations, but it was booked before I could even get the OTP,” one user said.
Mumbai city officials have come under fire for posting a notice on Twitter on Tuesday asking people to prepare as limited time slots open in minutes, wishing hopefuls “all the best”.
“Playing a stressful lottery every day is in very bad taste,” wrote Twitter user Nanaki.
In their defense, the Mumbai authorities wrote on Twitter that they were doing their best and simply wanted communication to remain “light”.
People in rural areas with little or no access to high-speed internet or smartphones are doomed to lose.
In a village in the desert state of Rajasthan to the west, 43-year-old tailor Sewli Bhatti’s said his family did not have a smartphone, so he enlisted the help of a teacher, who was inundated with listing requests on the CoWIN website.
Driver Dhananali Bariha, 28, in eastern Odisha state, said he wanted to be vaccinated but was puzzled by online check-in.
“I do not know how to do. I haven’t heard of CoWIN, ”he told Reuters.
Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.