From 1 May, India started its vaccination programme for the age group of 18-44 years. Unlike those above 45 years who can just walk into a vaccination centre, the 18-44 age group has to mandatorily book a vaccine slot on the CoWIN app or website.
On paper, it seems like a workable plan to streamline the vaccination process. A report by the Internet & Mobile Association (IAMAI) and Nielsen published in May 2020 pegged the number of active internet users in India at 503 million.
Based on this number, the plan to book vaccine slots on the CoWIN platform should have worked seamlessly. But the reality is, it has not.
The Quint visited urban slums in Delhi and Noida and a village near Guwahati in Assam. From our ground report, it has clearly emerged that there are many who aren’t aware that they have to first register online for the vaccination. Many aren’t aware of the CoWIN app, they don’t know how to use it and there are others who have no access to the internet or smartphones.
“I don’t know the details. Don’t know anything about a website. I don’t even know how to log in or navigate through the site.”Brijpal, 36, Fruit Seller
Brijpal lives in Noida's Nithari village where he worked as a plumber but after lockdown, he didn't have many customers. Now he sells fruits on a small cart outside the room he stays in. When asked if he knows the process to get vaccinated, he said he didn't know.
We met many like Brijpal. Everyone had little information regarding the vaccination but hardly anyone was aware of the online registration process.
“I don’t have a mobile phone, I am very poor. I don’t even have ration right now, that’s how helpless I am.”Ruma, 35, Housekeeper
In the absence of any proactive or aggressive information drive by the government, misinformation is also stopping a lot of people from getting vaccinated.
“We are illiterate, how will we book online when we don’t even know how to do it? We won’t be able to do this. The government should visit everyone’s house. It’s impossible for a poor person who lives on the street.”Munni, 25, Daily Wager
Rural Assam Has the Information but Not Internet
The Quint visited a vaccination centre in Guwahati where things were going on very smoothly. But as the team travelled few kilometres outside, to a village called Painikhati, the real picture began to unravel.
“I am not getting any OTP. I have been trying for a long time now. I have tried several times but the app is showing an invalid password and username. If the app is not opening and if I can’t use the app, then how will I register?”Priyanka, 19, Student
Priyanka has been trying to book a slot since 1 May but to no avail. A problem almost everyone is facing in Painikhaiti.
The youngsters have smartphones, they know where to register but connectivity is a major issue.
“The app is giving problems. It is not supporting the OTP. We have a lockdown here. We don’t even have the facility of the internet. No one can step out, so where do we go for internet access?”Sanjay, 22, Student
The locals say, ‘walk-in’ is the only way that will make vaccines accessible to everyone here.
“The vaccination centre is almost 30 km from here, not everyone can go there. I appeal to the government to open a small offline vaccination centre for us here. Then it will be really easy for all of us.”Priyanka, 19, Student
The government may have to change the strategy for this set of people, unless that’s done, a lot of people in the 18-44 age group may remain out of the vaccination programme.