India started vaccinating its population aged between 18 to 44 years from 1 May. With the modern generation being extremely tech-savvy and enthusiastic, I did not think booking a vaccination slot on the CoWIN portal would be a big challenge. These days, however, it is more like a ‘fastest finger first’ competition.
While a large number of people remains excluded from this slot system due to technological requirements, barring population in cities, many from nearby district areas also do not understand how this appointment system works.
Fortunately, I managed to book a slot at a centre in the Chandkheda area of Ahmedabad city in Gujarat on the very first day itself, but was left disappointment when I was sent back from the centre, citing insufficient stock.
At my centre, not many were aware that booking a slot was compulsory because walk-ins were being allowed on the first day, despite clear guidelines from the government. Those with an appointment were standing in a queue with no guarantee of vaccination. I wondered if that was happening at other centres as well.
Three days later, ie, on 4 May, I fortunately got another slot, albeit this time at a private hospital which inoculated me for a payment. I must admit that the private hospital was crowded but fortunately, social distancing was maintained to an extent.
Most importantly, the hospital authorities guaranteed that everyone who had a slot would get the vaccine by end of the day. We were assured that nobody with a booking would be sent back home without a jab.
As the word spread, many close family members and friends reached out to me and sought help in booking a vaccination slot within Ahmedabad. There are many centres across the city and I do believe a decent number of slots are available everyday, yet they are insufficient when compared to the number of people logging in and toiling hard in search of a slot.
After successfully booking two slots for myself, I thought I've perhaps got the hang of how the system works. I started helping my family members and close friends to get a vaccination slot and succeeded.
Help via Twitter
I decided to put out a tweet to initially help two people and test how it goes. You may call it luck, but it worked!
After this, I was flooded with multiple messages from people across Ahmedabad city who, by 10 May, were frustrated as they could not book a vaccination slot for themselves and their family members.
Since 11 May, my schedule has been the same: I finish work by 4 pm and login to the CoWIN portal in search of slots. I used to simultaneously work while keeping an eye on available slots. I spent most of my evenings online till about 10 pm in pursuit of an opening.
Initially, a few people sent their Aadhaar details which I then added to my account. Due to a limitation of 4 members per login, I started requesting for registered numbers, and people would then help me with the OTP to login to their account.
This was an efficient way since they would already add four members (of their family) and I could simultaneously book slots for them all. It felt rewarding to know that staring at my laptop screen for six hours straight had worked and I managed to book slots for everyone who initially reached out to me.
I felt extremely satisfied by the positive messages I received. Many equated a successful vaccination slot to something that saved their lives.
Personal texts like “Can't thank you enough for the help... in such torrid times... grateful for the excellent work you have been doing,” “thanks a lot dear, I will travel and take the vaccine. You gave a lot of efforts to book it,” “you are a genius, this slot booking was a miracle” (sic), gave me a sense of fulfilment and happiness.
This pushed me to help more people who were genuinely distressed, like some young people who were genuinely concerned for their parents in the 40-45 years age bracket, who were unable to get vaccinated.
On 12 May, I managed to book eight slots in a single sitting.
So far, in the last ten days, I have managed to help close to 30 people in getting a vaccination slot. Because, in these tough times, when we relate a vaccine as this life-saving tool against COVID-19, I feel happy to have played a minor part.
I wish to continue doing this and book slots as and when I can. I aim to help at least a 100 citizens to get a vaccination slot within Ahmedabad.
While I can’t do much on ground to help the citizens of my city, and nor can this be compared to what frontline workers have been doing, but finding vaccination slots for them was a minuscule contribution from my side.
I sincerely hope that that things get better as time passes, because no one should be deprived of a vaccine merely due to lack of access to technology. I look forward to a time when everyone has equal access to vaccines and health infrastructure.
We must find alternate means to get rural India on-board this program as not every corner of our country has access to high-speed data and technology, because of which I feel this slot booking mechanism will not last for long.
(Note: CoWIN has since disabled booking of multiple slots registered under one phone number. Slots can now only be booked for individual members.)
(The author is a law student based in Gujarat. All ‘My Report' branded stories are submitted by citizen journalists to The Quint. Though The Quint inquires into the claims/allegations from all parties before publishing, the report and the views expressed above are the citizen journalist's own. The Quint neither endorses, nor is responsible for the same.)
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