Govt tweaks app to allow walk-ins, experts want wider access to shots
The Union health ministry on Tuesday modified the Co-WIN platform to allow health workers to walk in for shots even if they have not been selected for a particular day, an attempt to overcome vaccine hesitancy and reach more people, although experts believe the government should consider opening the process up to make the vaccine accessible to people other than health care workers -- perhaps even the general public -- if current targets are not met.
India has carried out over 630,000 vaccinations since the drive was launched on Saturday, a start the government said was with the highest numbers for any country. But overall, the number is roughly half of what was being targeted, with officials and vaccinators blaming reluctance among selected recipients. There have also been reports of vaccine vials being wasted because enough people were not showing up to get their shots.
“Vaccine slots were getting wasted because initially, the Co-WIN system did not allow centres to add beneficiaries to utilise unused time slots. Now the system allows us to add new beneficiaries and expedite the process. Districts are adding beneficiaries who were allotted slots on future dates,” said a district nodal official in Delhi, who asked not to be identified.
Experts said that health care workers developing cold feet is a manifestation of hesitancy, and should it persist, India should allow for more people to sign up for jabs.
“The gradation for Covid-19 vaccination that government has done is good; and while I agree that priority group should get the vaccine first as they are at higher risk, but if the supplies are good then it can be opened up for regular people also,” said Dr Naresh Trehan, chairman and managing director, Medanta Hospital, Gurugram.
“There is anyway a lot of anxiety among general people, who wants to get the shot and may be willing to go here there and anywhere to get. So sooner we put it out in public space better it will be, and those who can pay should be [asked to pay]; after all why should government shoulder all the burden?” Trehan added, reiterating that this move will depend on the supplies and must be done in a measured manner.
An expert who has tracked vaccine roll-outs in other countries, such as the US and the UK, too, said that countries must focus on getting doses out to as many people as quickly as possible. “At first, our recommendation was to do a directed delivery in high priority groups but now forget about all these scenarios - if we have inventory, let’s deliver that inventory to everyone who is older than 65 and anyone who wants to get a vaccine instead of necessarily come up with onerous algorithms,” said Maria Elena Bottazzi, the associate dean, of National School of Tropical Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, in an interview to HT last week.
A Union health ministry official confirmed the tweak in the app on Tuesday to allow health care workers not scheduled for jabs on a particular day to get the shots. “The average vaccination sessions allowed per site are 100, and we were told in some centres fewer people were turning up. We have made a provision in the app to also accommodate beneficiaries scheduled to take the jab on other dates. Earlier, the software wasn’t designed to accept beneficiaries outside the day’s list but now they can,” said Dr RS Sharma, chairman, empowered group on Covid-19 vaccination.
But a rough estimate based on total number of inoculations and sessions suggested that on average, only 54 people were turning up for vaccinations from among the 100 who are identified every day. These people are part of a matrix of recipients created by the government, which prioritises health care workers for vaccinations in the first stages, followed by essential workers and vulnerable people in the general population.
A third expert contended it might be too early to open vaccinations for general public at this stage because of technical glitches. “It is a little early to open for general public as it seems the Co-WIN app is still being tested, and may not be able to take the load on real-time basis. The vaccination process will eventually open up for general public but right now priority should be people who are at maximum risk as vaccines are also in short supply,” said Dr MC Misra, former director, All India Institute of Medical Sciences (AIIMS), Delhi.
For now, hospitals will be testing to see if calling in any willing health workers for vaccination will help drive up the numbers.
“In addition to the list of beneficiaries sent to us by the Co-WIN platform, we were allowed to vaccinate people who are already registered but were not on the list. On the first two days, we had faced issues like people not being on duty or being out of station when their names came up but today we were able to vaccinate those in the hospital,” said Dr DS Rana, chairman (board of management) at Sir Ganga Ram hospital that vaccinated 100 people on Tuesday. The hospital had 117 lined up to receive the shot.