Vaccine Shortage

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Government must get adequate vaccines for all age groups

THE beginning of the much-awaited registration for citizens in the 18-44 age group for vaccination against COVID-19 was affected by technical glitches. The process for the third phase of vaccination that began on Wednesday saw over 1.13 crore people registering themselves on the CoWIN portal. The technical glitches were however fixed by the authorities and according to official data, over 80 lakh people registered themselves on the portal within three hours after the process was thrown open for public at 4 p.m. People who could not access the portal took to social media to complain about being unable to access it. The officials denied that the portal had crashed and went on to claim that the CoWin digital portal continued to work smoothly at its highest efficiency. The officials shared some statistics to prove that all was well. They said that the portal witnessed 383 million API hits, initially as high as 2.7 million hits per minute and a total of 1.45 crore SMSs were successfully delivered.

The outage of CoWIN for more than half an hour left those seeking to register themselves to avail slot for vaccination aghast. That all was not well with the portal could be made out from the fact that a tweet from the verified Twitter handle of the Aarogya Setu mobile application said the CoWIN portal was working after a minor glitch at 4 p.m. Again at 4.54 pm, a tweet from the same handle stated, “vaccination appointments for 18-plus will be possible once the state governments and private vaccination centres schedule vaccination sessions. Registration is happening on cowin.Gov.In.” These messages confused people and led to angry responses from people. Even those who managed to register themselves on the portal discovered that there were no appointments available for people below 45 years. The vaccination for the people in the age group of 18 to 44 years has been planned for May 1 and only those who have registered with the portal would be allotted time slots for vaccination.

R S Sharma, the chairman of the empowered group for COVID-19 vaccine administration, has clarified that the registration process has been stabilised and people would now be able to register on CoWin. He said that the registration of over 1.13 crore people proved that the system was working fine and such a feat would not have been achieved if there were glitches. Sharma said that criticism that people could not get appointments is not fair. He went on to say that people would get appointments when hospitals start vaccinating. However, government officials have conceded the website crashed due to load factor and that slots will be allotted only once vaccines become available. Various state governments and private hospitals are still negotiating with vaccine suppliers for their share of injections for people between the ages of 18 and 44 years. The officials said that the stock of vaccines with the central government numbering around 1.34 crore doses as of April 28 is reserved for those aged 45 years and above.

Though the process of registration has been restored, the issues related to allotment of slots would have to be sorted out. It remains to be seen whether the slots would be allotted on a ‘first come, first served’ basis or whether they would be manipulated to help those with connections. The issues need to be sorted out as most people feel that vaccination could save them from the dreaded coronavirus, which is creating new horrifying records every passing day by infecting more and more people. For a country with a population of over 140 crore the stocks of vaccines the central government has been able to organize are very inadequate. Even senior citizens in some states have not received the second dose owing to shortage. In countries such as Israel, the US and the UK, vaccination of a large section of the population has taken place. The central government has to ensure that production and distribution of vaccines is increased substantially so that most Indians are vaccinated in order to bring down the number of COCID-19 cases.