19 January, the third day of India’s massive inoculation campaign for Covid-19, began on a confused note in the capital city of Delhi. At the privately-run Max Hospital in Saket, a suburb in South Delhi, two doctors received text messages informing them that their vaccinations had been delayed. Another doctor at the same hospital, who had already received the first dose of the vaccine, got an SMS urging him to turn up for a jab on 21 January.
That wasn’t the only part of the process that had seemingly hit a snag. CoWIN, the technology platform meant to help track Covid vaccinations, was glitching repeatedly. “My details were supposed to be logged through CoWIN. But officials onsite told me that there were constant ‘Log In’ errors with the software,” says one of the doctors. Instead, details of his vaccination were noted down manually in a register. He had been given a shot of Serum Institute’s Covishield.
Created by Mumbai-based IT firm Trigyn Technologies, CoWIN isn’t available to the general public yet. It’s supposed to record beneficiary data and track whether those eligible for the vaccine have got their jab on time. It’s the government’s shield against duplication or misuse during this ambitious and once-in-a-century vaccination process.
Every candidate gets a confirmation SMS from the app—saying the first dose has been administered successfully—once their details are entered into it. The doctor from Max Hospital is yet to receive his, even twenty four hours after his vaccination.
Conflicting text messages to beneficiaries, manual uploading of names at the vaccine centers, and an app that crashes repeatedly have all slowed down a vaccination drive meant to cover 300 million people. The intended recipients include healthcare and frontline workers as well as senior citizens and those with comorbidities. In fact, in the western state of Maharashtra, the whole drive came to a standstill for two days.
“Everything is going through a rush. There is no point in doing dry runs [for vaccination] if the entire [CoWIN] system crashes when you launch it across the country,” a senior epidemiologist from New Delhi’s All India Institute of Medical Sciences tells The Ken. “The Covid vaccination approval, the roll out of the drive, and software issues have not been taken care of,” says the epidemiologist candidly. They did not want to be named as they aren’t authorised to speak with the media.
The platform’s struggles may affect a lot more than India’s vaccination efforts. Even as India has started to ship millions of doses of coronavirus vaccines to neighbouring countries such as Bangladesh and Nepal, the Prime Minister’s Office was keen to go one better. It wanted to also share the CoWIN system to help countries manage vaccinations.