'Will be able to scale up Covid vaccinations to 2.7 million a day’: RS Sharma
As the government opened up vaccination to people above 60 and people above 45 with comorbidities in Phase 2 of its Covid vaccination drive, Hindustan Times spoke to National Health Authority chairperson RS Sharma, the man behind registration system, about the process and the targets. Edited excerpts:
The Prime Minister got his jab this morning. What kind of impact will it have?
It’s a positive and powerful message to everybody, especially those who were doubting the vaccine and fearing side effects. The PM has been the spirit behind the entire citizen-centric approach we have taken from today.
Can you clarify the registration process? Initially it was meant to be via Co-WIN app, but now we are told that it is only through the website.
I’m glad to clarify this because I have also been sent screenshots saying this part is not working. There are as of now only two inlets, besides the walk-in registrations. One is the website (www.cowin.gov.in) where you can register up to four persons by providing your number. The other way is through the Aarogya Setu app, which has created an extension where you can also register.
Was it decided later on to not have a different app for vaccinations?
No, the confusion was not created by the government or any miscommunication — confusion gets created by WhatsApp messages etc. We’ve always maintained that there will only be two ways, besides being able to walk in and getting yourself registered and vaccinated immediately, provided there is vacancy. In future, in the next one or two months, people can create apps, get them certified, and register people.
At what stage does one choose their slot?
After you register, you can go back to the website or the Aarogya Setu app. When you log in, you can see your details, and you schedule the appointment. The two-step process is so that you can choose slots of your choice. You can also reschedule. Suppose you have a slot tomorrow, and something urgent comes up, you can just reschedule it on the website. The idea is that the vacancy created by your change can be taken by someone else. Earlier it was a captive audience of health care and frontline workers, and now it is a demand-driven situation. So, the possibility of no-show is much less.
What has been the response?
Well, about 1.5 million people have registered thus far (at 3pm on Monday -- the number was up to 2.9 million by late evening). If there are two people registered with one phone number, then we can assume there are three million registrations already. People are quite willing to take the vaccine. The software is capable of handling any numbers at this point of time. There may be some issues on the SMS gateway (for OTP generation) but otherwise our back-end infrastructure can handle it.
How do you think the pace of vaccination will be impacted? Till now less than 1% have been vaccinated. At that speed, it will take a long time to complete.
I’m not involved with the numbers, but more like a plumber, providing support to the drive. As an individual, however, I see a huge spurt in numbers, and we’ll be able to scale up very fast. It all depends on how private sector hospitals speed up, and also on supply etc. We have a total of 12,500 private hospitals that have come on board today, and about 15,000 hospitals in the public sector. So with 27,000 institutions in all, even at a conservative estimate of each one vaccinating 100, we’ll have 2.7 million in a day.
Final question, how will the walk-in vaccination work?
The walk-in facility is for slots which have not been filled up. For instance, suppose you have 100 vials for the public, of which you have a few of no-shows.