Tech-savvy game COVID-19 vaccine booking to get slots, but digital illiterate fall behind

Many benefit from vaccine trackers built by techies that put urban, tech-savvy people at an advantage in the race to book slots for the jab

Published: 12th May 2021 06:28 PM  |   Last Updated: 12th May 2021 06:28 PM   |  A+A-

cowin website

As CoWIN's Application Programming Interface is public, techies can write a script to check the availability of slots

Express News Service

BENGALURU: Tired of the CoWIN app not working, Raja, a resident of Kumara Park in Bengaluru, used, which sends alerts on Telegram, a messaging platform, including details of the pincode, date, name of the vaccine centre and number of slots available in your district and state, to book a slot and got the COVID jab.

Many like Raja benefit from vaccine trackers built by techies that put urban, tech-savvy people at an advantage in the race to book slots for the jab.

Explaining how vaccine trackers work, software developer Shashi Kumar Sah said normally an input entered into a website sends a request to a server, which in turn sends a response with all details displayed on the website.

"Most times this process is secure. However, with CoWIN, the Application Programming Interface, which is a software interface that allows two applications to talk to each other, is public. Anyone who knows the basics of programming can write a script that will check the availability of vaccine slots for you and send alerts on WhatsApp or Telegram," Sah said.

On the other hand, there are people such as street vendors, domestic workers, pourakarmikas, garment workers, construction labourers and others who either do not own smartphones and computers, or even if one person in the family does, they do not understand how to book or do not understand English to go about the process, pointed out Vinay Sreenivasa, activist and lawyer at Alternative Law Forum.

"The push from technocrats and private players has led to this mess. It is either the government's apathy or callousness that has led them to come up with a vaccination process which is out of touch with reality," Sreenivasa said.

Scarcity of vaccines has led to this inequality and monopoly. No one apart from those who use technology will be able to get the vaccine as these trackers have improved availability to get the vaccine and book it, said Nikhil Vishwanath Vallishayee, director of technology at NGO Jhatakaa.

"The need now is for the government to come up with a sensible and ethical way to distribute vaccines. They either need to enable scripts for everyone or disable them for all. A great subset of people in India are not tech-savvy and will not be able to register. Frontline workers and those with comorbidities should be prioritised first," Vallishayee said.

He gave the example of places outside Bengaluru like Tumakuru where there are no bots or scripts running the show and the slots get filled normally over a period of an hour as opposed to the state capital where slots get booked in less than a minute.


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