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RS Sharma: ‘Plan is for a demand-driven Covid vaccine registration system with hospitals nearby’

The system is running smoothly. It is a very good system where people have the flexibility to register, people have the flexibility to schedule (and) reschedule appointments and go there and get (vaccinations) done.

Written by Prabha Raghavan | New Delhi |
March 9, 2021 3:47:58 am
National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma. (File Photo)

As the government’s vaccination campaign against Covid progresses, ensuring a “demand-driven” registration system that allows people the option of more hospitals closer to their homes is the next target for National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma. In an interview to PRABHA RAGHAVAN, Sharma, who heads the empowered committee for administration of Covid vaccines, discusses these priorities and efforts to protect data of vaccinated citizens from cyberattacks. Edited excerpts:

Have you seen more traction in vaccinations post direction to utilise the 100 per cent private hospital capacity and extend vaccination timings past 5pm?

(Over the first) three days (of the vaccinations for senior citizens and those with specific co-morbidities), it was more or less a 75 per cent increase (in vaccinations). So, hopefully, more and more people are coming forward and numbers will increase.

In the next 3-6 months, what is the broader plan in terms of ensuring a smooth running of the vaccination programme against Covid-19?

The system is running smoothly. It is a very good system where people have the flexibility to register, people have the flexibility to schedule (and) reschedule appointments and go there and get (vaccinations) done. That’s one part. We will further finetune the timings. We will divide the timings into slots. That’s also doable. It’s not a problem.

But (a) demand-driven system (that is) open to citizens and covering many hospitals so that the facilities are near their place is the plan going forward. Now, with regard to the numbers, logistics — of course, this plan will be subjected to the availability of vaccines and the numbers (of) how people respond to it.

…As of now, the policy is whatever vaccine comes, they will go into the system. (Whether a) new (vaccine) will be accepted or not accepted, I don’t know. But, hopefully (if) the Government of India approves any new vaccine, that also comes into the system (and) the distribution pattern will be similar. The only thing is we are not giving any choice to the person as to which vaccine they take. But, at the same time, we are ensuring that the first vaccine, whatever they take, is the same one as the second.

How are you ensuring this, especially given the fact that supplies of some vaccines may be more limited than others?

That, we are ensuring because we have the data of everybody and we issue a digital certificate to everybody after vaccination. The policy thus far we are having is that we will continue to give the same (vaccine) to a centre. But, if one vaccine is changed to some other vaccine, then the person who (received their first shot of that vaccine) there will basically not be allowed to come to (that facility) again (for the second dose). He will be directed to a different place which is offering the first vaccine.

How will you make sure there are no glitches in the system and no room for technical error, so that everyone gets their second dose on time, given that this is a time-sensitive exercise?

While it is time-sensitive, we actually fix the appointment also (for the second dose). That slot is fixed after you get the first vaccine, but, ultimately, it’s all voluntary. If the (person) decides not to come, what can I do? Basically, we are facilitating the fact that he will get the same vaccine (on the 29th) day. If he can’t come on the 29th day, he can reschedule … you have one week (to) 10 days’ flexibility. That’s what we will do. Otherwise, we will facilitate and there is no question of a technical glitch.

You earlier spoke about ensuring the safety of data on CoWIN and Aarogya Setu and making sure that the system is protected from cyberattacks. What measures are you implementing to this effect?

The data is sitting at the back-end of our system, so data is not being distributed anywhere. We have to ensure safety and security of that data. There are standard methods of ensuring (this) — intrusion detection systems, intrusion prevention systems and what is called encryption. There are various kinds of firewalls. Those things are being put into place — the standard practices of ensuring that there are no cyber attacks, there are no denial of service attacks … SQL injections … Our system is absolutely robust.

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