The glitches that hit the Co-WIN portal on the first day of the second phase rollout of the Covid-19 vaccination could have been avoided with better planning and foresight. People across the country struggled to register their names for vaccination and book appointment slots as the centralised website encountered several technical problems. What came out as a glaring lapse was the over-centralisation of the whole process. At a time when there is an urgent need to ramp up vaccination coverage, a centralised model of vaccination management could become a major hurdle. State governments, private hospitals and other stakeholders in the healthcare sector should have been made equal partners in the inoculation drive. Going by the experience on the opening day, the single, centralised Co-WIN platform is bound to be stretched to its maximum extent in the coming few weeks. Every single day’s delay puts pressure on the government’s attempt to tame the virus, particularly in the face of a second wave hitting some parts of the country. The quickest way to check the spread of the virus is through vaccinations. But, in the absence of flexibility for the State governments to work offline and a robust manual plan to support an overstretched online infrastructure, the mass vaccination is likely to slow down. Also, the vaccination portal can’t become a point of difference between the tech haves and have-nots.
The Centre should have encouraged people to pre-register for the vaccine doses so that the pressure on the centralised portal could have been avoided. Though a provision has been made now for those without smartphones to register physically at the vaccination centres, there was no reason why this option was not given to the general public earlier. Blending the digital infrastructure with the manual one could have been the ideal route to ensure hassle-free and quick vaccination coverage. About 25 lakh people could register on the portal on the opening day and of them, only 1.46 lakh above 60 years of age and those above 45 with specific comorbid conditions got their first dose of the vaccine. The gaps in messaging and logistical strategies were responsible for vaccine hesitancy even among the healthcare and frontline workers in the first phase. In order to scale up the vaccination drive, more private hospitals must be involved in this phase. If 1.3 billion people are to be vaccinated, it will take 260 days — at the rate of 5 million a day — to complete administration of the first dose. Since all vaccines have a finite period of longevity and the matter of possible expiry of many of these vaccines is of national concern, there is a need to ensure that their delivery is expedited.
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