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COVID-19 | Tech glitches mar vaccination drive in India

However, experts Moneycontrol spoke to described these as teething issues which will be ironed out in the coming days.

March 01, 2021 / 08:52 PM IST

Even as India kicked off the vaccination drive for senior citizens and those over 45 years with comorbidities, confusion over the registration process marred the rollout, apart from technical glitches that people faced while signing up on the CoWIN platform.

However, experts Moneycontrol spoke to described these as teething issues which will be ironed out in the coming days.

Teething issues

Many complained that they didn't get an OTP to complete the registration through the app. Even those who were looking to register through the portal have pointed out that they were unable to get the details either through SMS or email.

A source, who has been working closely with the application for the last few days, said such glitches are expected given it is only the first day.

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“If you are going to vaccinate 5-10 crore people, these are expected. It will smoothen out in the next few hours or in a couple of days. They are just teething problems,” the source said. He further explained that this is common whenever an application is launched at scale.

“There are hundreds of people currently working to ensure that the whole process is seamless,” he added.

There was also confusion around the registration process. Many of the users have been trying to register using the app, which was meant only for government and healthcare workers. “The app is available only in Android and it is not for citizens to register. It has to be done on the portal,” the source said.

The Ministry of Health also clarified that the beneficiaries have to register using the portal instead of the app for booking appointments.

What is CoWIN?

CoWIN (COVID-19 Vaccine Intelligence Network) is a repurposed version of eVIN (Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network), an indigenously developed platform in partnership with the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) and the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare.

Since January 16 when the first phase of vaccination drive began, the portal and application was used by healthcare and frontline workers. So far close to 1.43 crore have already been vaccinated.

Technical glitches

Since the start, the app has been running into technical glitches hampering the progress of vaccination in the country. It was serious enough that the vaccination drive has to be halted for two days in Maharashtra on January 17 and 18, 2021.

Data entry was one of the biggest challenges. The application was not updating the vaccination status of beneficiaries, and there was a lag in registration of healthcare workers in the CoWIN system.

Experts Moneycontrol earlier spoken to had shared that the CoWIN was far from ready for the massive rollout as it requires seamless integration with multiple applications given the massive amount of information that had to be collected and processed.

Hirak Kayal, Vice President – Cloud Applications, Oracle, had earlier said, “We are talking about vaccinating 130 crore people across the country in the next year or two, an exponential increase in the number of people that would be covered under the vaccine.”

This would need massive scale-up in infrastructure compared to eVIN. Kayal pointed out earlier that eVIN that was rolled out in 2015 has some technology infrastructure. However, it is not clear if it has the modern technology needed to handle such a scale of operations that would use blockchain, IoT, AI, and ML, he added.

Sure enough, it ran up to technical glitches. The government has said these issues have been fixed. RS Sharma, CEO, National Health Authority, in an interaction with Quint, had shared that the system is prepared for 1 crore COVID-19 vaccinations per day and the technical glitches have been taken care of.

But…

To solve the glitches, the government had halted the vaccination for two days, February 27 and 28, to transition from CoWIN 1.0 to CoWIN 2.0 to get ready for the third phase of the inoculation drive.

This has earned criticism on the kind of value addition the application has in the entire vaccination process. Some continue to be apprehensive about the robustness of the CoWIN infrastructure.

Anivar Aravind, public interest technologist and software engineer based in Bangalore, said that the website was built on top of eVIN. It is an unwanted layer, resulting in the glitches, he said.

Kumar Ritesh, CEO, Cyfirma, a cyber intelligence platform, pointed out that while the communication glitches have been sorted out, the platform is far from being secure for massive rollout. Manual entry of data by citizens such as phone number, Aadhaar ID and location could be easily captured by cybercriminals using fake sites. “It only takes 15-20 minutes to create and host a replica of the CoWIN registration site,” he explained.

Ritesh suggested that the data collection needs to be automated and the government to increase the awareness about the legitimate site, which is not the case right now. “ A legitimate site should have something unique and cannot be easily replicated,” he added.

Also, there are concerns about the current technology partners of CoWIN. Giridara Gopal Parameswaran, an epidemiologist, said in a tweet that there is not much clarity on the strength of the current technology partners of the application and also the level of access these firms will get in terms of user information.
Swathi Moorthy
first published: Mar 1, 2021 07:45 pm
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