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Saturday, May 15, 2021

Explained: Will CoWin API make it easier to get vaccine appointments?

As per the APIs released by CoWin, a developer can build a tool to find vaccination appointments by PIN code, by district, by PIN code over a seven-day period, and by district over a seven-day period.

Written by Pranav Mukul , Edited by Explained Desk | New Delhi |
Updated: May 11, 2021 8:44:50 am
CoWinIn addition to the vaccine slot availability search, access to CoWin has also been opened up for certificate download. (File photo)

Since Covid-19 inoculation exercise commenced for the 18-44 age group, finding an available slot at a vaccine centre has become a challenge, especially given that it is mandatory for this age group to make an appointment on the CoWin app. With an aim to resolve this, the National Health Authority (NHA) — the nodal agency managing the CoWin app — has opened up the APIs for vaccine appointments to the public.

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What does opening up of APIs mean and what exactly does it enable?

An open API refers to a publicly available application programming interface (API) that provides developers access to a proprietary software application. For instance, you have a Google Maps API that integrates with food delivery or travel portal, or the UPI API used by a range of apps to enable easy payments.

In this case, the NHA has allowed anyone to access a set of requirements needed to communicate and interact with the CoWin platform. This has enabled developers to build third-party tools that allow users to set alerts for slot availabilities according to various parameters. People can use these third-party tools to enter their details and they will get an alert whenever a slot opens up.

What are these parameters and how will the users be alerted?

As per the APIs released by CoWin, a developer can build a tool to find vaccination appointments by PIN code, by district, by PIN code over a seven-day period, and by district over a seven-day period. Depending on the options provided by the third-party developer, a user can be alerted through an SMS, an e-mail, or a WhatsApp message.

Have the APIs been opened up for other services as well?

In addition to the vaccine slot availability search, access to CoWin has also been opened up for certificate download. Using this, people will be able to download vaccination certificate in PDF format by inputting the beneficiary reference ID.

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Have any such platforms come up already?

Yes. A number of platforms that allow users to get alerts have been launched by third-party developers. For example, the portal ‘www.getjab.in’ provides the users an option to get an alert on their e-mail ID or mobile number by inputting their details and the district in which they are seeking a slot. Some developers have also used python scripts to create alerts that are sent to groups on Telegram messaging app.

Are there any concerns with this development?

In addition to the basic red flag that this will enable third-party platforms to collect data of users wanting to utilise these services, concerns are also being raised about how this will affect equitable distributions of vaccines in society. A chief issue being raised here is that this will tilt the vaccine availability in favour of those with knowledge of computer programming, or better access to these third-party platforms.

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