The Indian government has started vaccinating all citizens between the ages of 18 and 44.
In spite of the fact that medical professionals regard this inoculation process as essential for containing COVID-caused fatalities, the Indian government has introduced an “online registration” system by which people under 44 must fill in a form and book a slot for their vaccination.
People can either register themselves on the government’s COVID-19 monitoring app Aarogya Setu or a new web platform – CoWIN.
“My house help Geeta Didi came to me asking for help to register her son for vaccination using the app. She said it was bizarre that everybody has been asked to register online. Nobody in her small, humble family is proficient in English and so they could not understand how to navigate the CoWIN app,” Vikram Khajuria, a resident of Noida city says.
Noida is located in the National Capital Region, which also includes such cities as Delhi, Gurugram, Faridabad and Ghaziabad, where online vaccination registration is mandatory at present.
According to the 2020 National Health Family Survey, 60 percent women in 12 states and Union Territories of India have never used the internet.
Talking to Sputnik, Kazim Rizvi, founding director of Indian tech think tank The Dialogue, believes that online registration should not be required for vaccination.
“[Online vaccine registration] is only open for those who have access to the internet, can read English and can check whether there is a slot available. This policy places a triple burden on the economically disadvantaged group of this country in getting access to their fundamental right to healthcare. It inevitably singles out the poor and is thus in violation of their right to equality under Article 14 of the Constitution,” Rizvi says.
At this point, not only are the supply of COVID vaccines short in India, but the appointment slots for people aged 18-44 are scarce. Last week when the webpage of CoWin registration was launched, it crashed within the first 20 minutes due to massive inflow of users.
Indians are criticizing the government for tickling the digital divide prevailing in the country at a time of the pandemic.
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Rizvi has advised the government to revisit its vaccine policy to make it more inclusive.
“Our policies must align with the ground reality. Merely allowing one person to register on behalf of four people is not enough. These are difficult times, and the Government is trying to help all, but a major step must be taken to make online registration available in all regional languages and have officers dedicated to assisting the economically disadvantaged to get registered for vaccination,” Rizvi added.
According to data from the health ministry, vaccination roll-out ranges from Gujarat - one of the most populous states which has the highest percentage of people to have been inoculated - to Uttar Pradesh which has not even fully vaccinated one per cent of its citizens despite having the largest stock of unused vaccines.
Indian opposition leader Rahul Gandhi has also advised Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a letter, that rapid vaccination of Indians right now is vital to avoid a catastrophe.