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Paytm, MakeMyTrip, Infosys offer to help India with COVID vaccine bookings

The government relaxed rules last month to potentially allow third-party apps to offer vaccine bookings and has taken back control of procurement from states following delays and shortages. It also faced initial problems with its own vaccine booking platform.

June 10, 2021 / 05:21 PM IST

Paytm, Infosys and MakeMyTrip are among companies seeking approval in India to provide online COVID-19 vaccine bookings, the head of the government's tech platform said, as the country tries to make it easier for its huge population to book shots.

The government relaxed rules last month to potentially allow third-party apps to offer vaccine bookings and has taken back control of procurement from states following delays and shortages. It also faced initial problems with its own vaccine booking platform.

Also Read: COVID-19 Vaccination slot booking will soon be allowed via third-party apps as Centre revises guidelines for CoWIN API

Around 15 state agencies and private companies, which also include Indian healthcare giants Apollo and Max, and online pharmacy 1mg, have asked to be allowed to offer vaccine bookings, R.S. Sharma, head of the government's panel managing the CoWIN vaccination registration platform, told Reuters.

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COVID-19 Vaccine

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How does a vaccine work?

A vaccine works by mimicking a natural infection. A vaccine not only induces immune response to protect people from any future COVID-19 infection, but also helps quickly build herd immunity to put an end to the pandemic. Herd immunity occurs when a sufficient percentage of a population becomes immune to a disease, making the spread of disease from person to person unlikely. The good news is that SARS-CoV-2 virus has been fairly stable, which increases the viability of a vaccine.

How many types of vaccines are there?

There are broadly four types of vaccine — one, a vaccine based on the whole virus (this could be either inactivated, or an attenuated [weakened] virus vaccine); two, a non-replicating viral vector vaccine that uses a benign virus as vector that carries the antigen of SARS-CoV; three, nucleic-acid vaccines that have genetic material like DNA and RNA of antigens like spike protein given to a person, helping human cells decode genetic material and produce the vaccine; and four, protein subunit vaccine wherein the recombinant proteins of SARS-COV-2 along with an adjuvant (booster) is given as a vaccine.

What does it take to develop a vaccine of this kind?

Vaccine development is a long, complex process. Unlike drugs that are given to people with a diseased, vaccines are given to healthy people and also vulnerable sections such as children, pregnant women and the elderly. So rigorous tests are compulsory. History says that the fastest time it took to develop a vaccine is five years, but it usually takes double or sometimes triple that time.

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Softbank-backed digital payments app Paytm has more than 100 million monthly active users and MakeMyTrip has 12 million. Their popularity is seen providing more options to Indians looking to book their COVID-19 shots, particularly if they are struggling with an unfamiliar government platform.

"It will work in favour of the country, the union of all the entities is better than just one individual platform," Sharma said.

MakeMyTrip CEO Rajesh Magow said the company wanted to help people book their vaccination slots. 1mg said it was waiting for government approvals. Apollo declined to comment, while Paytm, Infosys and Max did not respond to Reuters queries.

Only 3.5 percent of India's 1.3 billion population has been fully immunised against COVID-19 and health officials say the pace will have to ramp up to avoid further deadly surges of the virus, like the one that swept the country in the spring.

While much will depend on a pick up in scarce vaccine supplies, experts say more booking options should help. Several software developers have already been using publicly available coding for the CoWIN platform to create tools that send Telegram alerts to help people book slots.

"Right now, even if you find a slot using alerts, you have to still go to the government website and follow many steps. Companies will be able to give a better user experience compared to CoWIN," said Berty Thomas, a software developer who had designed Telegram alerts for notifying people about slots.

Paytm too has enabled a notification feature on its app.

Sharma said vaccine supplies should improve going forward and praised the CoWIN platform, saying at least three African nations - Zambia, Nigeria and Malawi - had enquired about using it for their own vaccination drives.

"We will give them the portal free of cost and they can customize. This is highly scalable," said Sharma.

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Reuters
first published: Jun 10, 2021 05:20 pm

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