ON APRIL 28TH, the CoWIN site was thrown open for those between the ages of 18 to 44 for vaccination but, as with many recent Government decisions, it is either too late or too early. The Arogya Setu Twitter handle congratulated Team CoWIN on the numbers who registered: ‘So we close Day 1 with 1.32 Cr Registrations on http://Cowin.gov.in. Kudos to Team CoWIN for building a truly scalable and robust platform. Handling more than 50000 API calls per second is mammoth!! #LargestVaccinationDrive.’
But those between 18 and 44 won’t get a vaccine for weeks, if not months, because these are the behest of state governments or private hospitals who purchase it separately and won’t start arriving until mid-May. In the case of Maharashtra, for example, according to a News18 report, Serum Institute of India has told them supplies could only be given from May 20th. Not just the younger age group, the Centre has no vaccines for the rest too because of poor foresight about supplies needed. In Mumbai, a month ago, you wouldn’t be wrong in thinking of the vaccination drive at par with a developed country. You might have had to stand in a queue but it was a couple of hours at most. Now, the CoWIN site shows no schedule at all in the city and those who walk in after seeing WhatsApp forwards of the list of centres with availability, senior citizens in particular, have to sometimes wait for an entire day in crowds that qualify for super-spreader events.
The system has imploded. Supply is bare minimum and demand increasing at the wrong moment. At such a point, lowering the age for eligibility serves no purpose other than creating false expectations and confusion. Kerala, for instance, has announced that it will place an order for 1 crore vaccines and even after they come, priority will be for the second dose, signalling that the new policy is essentially unimplementable as things stand now. Those between 18 and 44 can’t walk into centres and will have to take appointments online, handicapping a large percentage of the population who are illiterate or unfamiliar with technology.
The reason why the Centre lowered the age was panic in the face of a second wave that it was unprepared for. There is a valid argument that since the young transmit more even if the virus hurts them less, vaccinating them has great dividends. But it is a futile argument if you have no vaccines. And so, there is the irony of asking them to vaccinate while making it as difficult as possible for them to do so. It is tokenism with consequences. When the vaccination drive should have been decontrolled with private participation right from the beginning, the Centre insisted on total control. Now, when absence of control will lead to chaos, it washes its hands off and lets states and private hospitals take the heat.