National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma (File Image)
India clocked a new milestone on the first day of the government's new Covid-19 vaccination policy on June21st. More than 80 lakh jabs were given across the country, almost double the country's earlier highest mark of 43 lakh daily vaccinations in early April.
RS Sharma, the CEO of the National Health Authority is hopeful that this will not be an exception but become the norm as more people are willing to take the vaccines, India now has the capacity to inoculate in larger numbers, with vaccine supply also improving.
Sharma, who is the chairperson of en empowered committee for India's Covid19 vaccine delivery tech platform CoWin, said the platform is built to handle up to 2 crore jabs a day, with the data uploaded real-time even if people walk in to get inoculated without registration or an appointment.
As the former chief of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI), the semi-government body tasked with rolling out the national identity project Aadhaar, Sharma believes CoWin can evolve to a platform that can handle all kinds of vaccination in India, and that Aarogya Setu can be repurposed as a personal health record. Edited Excerpts:
The first day of the new vaccination policy coming into effect saw a record 84 lakh jabs, nearly double of the previous high of 43 lakh jabs in a single day, that we saw in April. Is this sustainable and how can we retain the momentum?
I deal with the CoWin vaccination platform and we prepared it for as many numbers as possible. The issue you should be talking to me about is the scaleability, inclusivity of CoWin, and how sustainable it is. In terms of the factors, people are willing to take jabs, we have the capacity to do the vaccination and we have vaccines available- these constitute the numbers that were present.
Read: COVID-19 Vaccine Tracker: 86.16 lakh doses administered in India on June 21
When I spoke to you a few months ago, you mentioned that this platform has been built to scale and can handle 1 crore vaccinations a day. How soon can we hit this number?
We must compliment and congratulate all the state governments who have gone ahead and achieved the 84 lakh number on June 21. As far as platform scalability is concerned, we will continue to scale up and we can go up to even 2 crores a day for example.
So, we are ready to scale the platform. Every transaction on the platform is done through API (application programming interface) and yesterday at 12:04 pm, we hit 30,000 hits a second. We got 1.38 million API calls in a minute. WE should be able to cater to all the load that comes on the platform.
You have often said that this a procurement issue and not a tech or delivery issue. Has this been ironed out with the Centre handling procurement, walk-ins are also allowed for 18 and above... Has that also helped accelerate the pace?
There is a multiplicity of factors that goes into building the momentum. Walk-ins have been allowed from the very beginning. 80 per cent of vaccinations have taken place through walk-ins, without reservations. But that does not mean that these vaccinations are happening in a manual manner. Every vaccination is recorded and uploaded in real-time on the CoWin platform.
The dashboard is updated every hour with vaccinations taking place in the country. It is a digital process that is happening. I think the CoWin platform that the entire vaccination drive is systematic and we have a single source that shows numbers on a real-time basis.
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How are you ensuring that every jab is recorded on a real-time basis? Because not everyone might register and not everyone might have a phone. So how are you ensuring that data doesn't get excluded?
At all centres, the verifier verifies the identity and the vaccinator vaccinates based on their identity and eligibility- and that is something that is done in a digital manner. Every vaccination gets recorded in real-time online- which vaccine, who was vaccinated, who administered the vaccine- with the date, time and place. So that next time, they may go anywhere in the country, the process is absolutely portable. The granularity is individual,
84 lakh yesterday, what is likely to be today, on the 22nd of June, based on the visibility you have?
I think the momentum is here to stay, the policy of the Govt of India which has enabled free vaccination to everyone at government centres and has also kept prices reasonable at the private centre is a very progressive and powerful policy and that I think is going to see a huge acceleration in the process of vaccination in our country
Is India on track then to vaccinate its entire adult population by the end of the year?
We are certainly on the path to universal coverage for ages above 18 and on this issue, many people concerned with procurement, distribution, and logistics, they have given breakups.
The only assurance I can give is that the Cowin platform is absolutely scaleable, built for population scale, it is also now ubiquitous because we have partners through whose applications you can book a slot for yourself. We have 12 languages already on the platform
Can CoWin eventually become what Aadhaar is today- a platform that is central to the delivery of various government schemes. You played a key role in architecting Aadhaar, do you think CoWin can go beyond a vaccination platform to become a means of healthcare delivery?
India has built a number of platforms in the past- Aadhaar is one of them, UPI is one of them. On top of Aadhaar, we have built Digi locker, built eSign, built eKYC, we do billions of authentications every month. So India has built a huge amount of digital public goods.
We are going to build population-scale platforms in the health sector. The national digital health mission is one such platform that was launched in August 2020. That is going to transform health service delivery in a digital manner.
Similarly, we are now going to build other platforms in other sectors, where we will be using these building blocks.
So, India is at the cusp of a digital transformation, we have already done digital India, we are going to use this expertise on developing population-scale platforms to deliver services in agriculture, health, education and other areas. CoWin can be a good platform for vaccination for all kinds.
So CoWin can eventually become a platform to track all kinds of vaccination - children and adults?
That is actually a very obvious use case. For example, Aarogya Setu will become one of the primary pieces in the hands of every person to have his personal health record. The kind of architecture we are putting in place, the person is in charge of his own data.
That being the case, the data empowerment architecture, can repurpose Aarogya Setu and make the keeper of health records of each individual in its own control.