India set to release app to help manage massive Covid-19 vaccination exercise

India is moving to roll out one of the world's biggest vaccination drives.
India is moving to roll out one of the world's biggest vaccination drives.PHOTO: AFP

NEW DELHI - As India moves to roll out one of the world's biggest vaccination drives, an app called CoWIN (Covid Vaccine Intelligence Work) will be the "backbone" of the exercise to vaccinate its vast population.

The vaccination drive comes with a whole set of challenges, including the seamless movement of the vaccine from the source to the vaccination centres, storing it at the right temperature throughout and identifying beneficiaries in order of priority, all of which can be difficult even in countries with smaller populations.

But India, not lacking in technological prowess, is banking on the app.

In the financial capital of Mumbai, the authorities have registered 225,000 health workers and front-line staff, including police, on the CoWIN App.

The authorities, who plan to vaccinate 125,000 people in the first 12 days, are planning a final dry run with the app before the countrywide vaccinations start on Saturday (Jan 16).

"It is working good. All technical glitches can be sorted out and staff will get hands-on practice. It (the app) is easy to use. Sometimes the Internet connection is slow or it doesn't accept data in a particular field," said Mr Suresh Kakani, additional municipal commissioner at the Brihanmumbai Municipal Corporation, the area's local administration.

"If we practise, it will be easier to handle."

He noted that without this technological intervention, the complex process would have been laborious and even more complex.

Through the app, the authorities will send out an SMS to those who have registered to go to a particular centre to get vaccinated. The authorities will be able to use the app to track each dose of the vaccine, have a clear picture of how many are in stock, and even the temperature of the storage. The app can also help ensure that recipients get the two doses on time.

The app is an extension of the Electronic Vaccine Intelligence Network software developed with UNDP (United Nations Development Programme) India and supported by an international organisation called Gavi, the Vaccine Alliance.

Mr Ram Sewak Sharma, chairman of the government's Empowered Group on Technology and Data Management, said at a recent meeting of state and federal officials that "robust, dependable and agile technology shall form both the foundation and the back-up for the country's Covid-19 vaccination".

The app, accessed only by the authorities till now, is likely to be released on Saturday, Indian media reports said. Members of the public will only have the option of registering themselves.

India is the second-worst affected country, after the United States, for the coronavirus infection, with more than 10.5 million cases.

But the number of new cases daily has been on a downward trend since the peak in September last year, with 16,946 added to the tally on Wednesday.

Vaccines being distributed include those developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University, and local firm Bharat Biotech in collaboration with the Indian Council of Medical Research's National Institute of Virology.


The CoWIN app, accessed only by the authorities till now, is likely to be released on Saturday. PHOTO: REUTERS

Efforts are under way to finetune the app.

IT Minister Ravi Shankar Prasad has offered cash rewards of up to 4 million rupee (S$72,600)  for strengthening the CoWin system. The government has asked start-ups and emerging technology specialists to scale up the CoWIN platform and offer improvements even as fake apps have also surfaced.

In a tweet last week, the Health Ministry said: "Some apps named '#CoWIN' apparently created by unscrupulous elements to sound similar to the upcoming official platform of Government, are on App stores. DO NOT download or share personal information on these."

Experts said India is well prepared for the distribution with several elements already in place, including an administration that has the experience of massive exercises such as national elections.

The near-universal use of Aadhar, the government's identity card with biometric details, address and phone number, is expected to help the government pinpoint recipients.

"We all know how successfully India has conducted elections... And there has been the roll-out of a variety of digital initiatives like Jan Dan bank accounts (for the poor to receive government monetary benefits)," said Mr Arvind Singhal, chairman of management consulting firm Technopak Advisors.

"It's a mind-boggling task. But there is a well-oiled machinery in place with a lot of elements used for vaccination. I think India has built technological strengths for this."