“There’ve been some unfounded media reports of the CoWIN platform creating a digital divide and allowing unscrupulous elements to hack the system to benefit few sections of population. Reports are incorrect and not supported by full information on the matter,” the Union health ministry stated.

Dr. R.S. Sharma, Chairman, Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management to combat COVID-19 debunked these misinformation and set the record straight.

He said the lack of basic comprehension about the complexity of a vaccination exercise has led to the false labelling of citizens not finding slots on the platform to problems of the platform itself.

“We state this with absolute certainty that no breaches have been found till date. No scripts can bypass the OTP verification and CAPTCHA to automatically register an individual. We wouldn’t have been able to smoothly scale to over 90 million vaccines till date through online registrations alone if citizens were paying 400 to 3,000 (USD 7 to 40) to illegitimate coders just for booking. Such claims are unsubstantiated, and we would request the public at large to not pay heed to such crooks,” Sharma said.

Regarding the ratio of registrations on CoWIN website for vaccination to doses administered, Dr Sharma said that the ratio improved to 6.5: 1 from an “alarming” 11:1 a week ago.

Overall, with over 244 million registrations and more than 167 million receiving at least one dose (according to data at 7 pm, May 29), the shortfall explains the current proceedings, which will naturally catch up as time passes and there is a larger supply of vaccines, he said.

Examining the issue of unavailability of vaccination slots, he said the noise started surfacing after registrations for 18 to 44 years age group were opened up on April 28.

“One would be amazed to learn how steeply skewed the demand-supply for vaccines has been in this age bracket. The ratio of registrations to doses administered stands at 6.5: 1, which was an alarming 11:1 a week before,” an official statement quoted him as saying.

Over 167 million people of the over 1,37 billion population have been administered at least one dose of the vaccine, translating to approximately 12.21 per cent coverage or nearly 1 in every 8 Indians getting vaccinated.

“Looking at the actual target population of 18+ of 944.7 million, the number goes up to approximately 17.67 per cent or 2 in every 11 Indians. This data is updated on real time basis on the CoWIN website and is available to view for all, accurate down to the district level in a state,” Sharma said.

He said the proportion between online registrations and offline walk-ins has been modified time-to-time to manage overwhelming crowds and maintain law-and-order at vaccination centres.

“In fact, nearly 55% of the 211.8 million doses administered till date have been through walk-ins. The brilliance of CoWIN lies in its ability to allow changes on the fly for the proportion of slots made available between online registration and offline walk-in,” Sharma said.

Besides the previously countered contentions, there is the debate of digital divide and inclusivity, stressing that CoWIN is crippling the nation’s efforts to vaccinate equitably, he said.

“To safeguard interests of those at a disadvantage, we have simplified the registration process to make it accessible to all. Monosyllabic / single word questions have been used to overcome language barriers. We are soon launching the option to choose from 14 vernaculars to further aid this concern. Sign-ups and registrations only demand mobile numbers, name, age, and gender. Further, CoWIN provides up to 7 options for identification, not restricting the choice to Aadhar,” he said.

“To further drive inclusivity, one citizen can register up to four individuals with the same mobile number. We have equipped 250,000+ Community Service Centres (CSCs) to assist rural citizens with registrations. Additionally, we are in the process of initiating call centres at NHA (National Health Authority) to help individuals sign up over phone calls,” he said.

“And as mentioned previously, offline walk-ins have always been there for those that can’t register online, evident from the 110 million+ doses administered through offline walk-ins,” he said.

Sharma said for a country showing growing affinity for digital technologies, CoWIN serves as the necessary technological backbone to overcome information asymmetry and ensure equitable vaccination access for all.

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