Missing in vaccination: Rural service centres switch off, see tiny fraction of CoWin logins

Lockdown curbs, confusion on pricing ensure mere 0.1% of registrations at CSCs.

Questioned by the Supreme Court on its plan to increase vaccination in rural India, the Union Home Ministry said that people in the 18-44 age group living in semi-urban and rural areas could make use of Common Service Centres (CSC) to register on the CoWin platform for their shot.

That’s easier said than done.

For, the CSCs, run by the Ministry of Electronics and Information Technology, seen as critical nodes in bridging the rural-urban digital divide – helping residents with digital services like Aadhaar or bank accounts — have been largely switched off the vaccination programme, records obtained by The Indian Express show.

In what highlights the capacity gap and also raises questions on vaccine equity, of the roughly 3 lakh CSCs, only 54,460 were active as on May 11.

These registered a total of just 1.7 lakh citizens for vaccination on the CoWin platform — given the total vaccination count at above 17 crore, that works out to just about 0.1 per cent.

The top five states by number vaccinated — with at least one dose — are Maharashtra, Rajasthan, Gujarat, Uttar Pradesh, and West Bengal. In these states, too, the number registered on CoWin through CSCs is a tiny fraction — between a low of 0.02 per cent and a high of 0.1 percent.

Even in Bihar, Jharkhand, Chhattisgarh and Madhya Pradesh, with a significant semi-urban or rural population, registration at CSCs is a blip: as a share of the total number vaccinated, it’s less than a fraction of 1 per cent.

Clearly, the CSCs are out of the loop in the vaccination process even before the second wave or the shortage crisis hit.

This despite their potential. Said R S Sharma, CEO of the National Health Authority, which is in charge of the CoWin platform: “They (CSCs) are extremely important because, essentially, the Co-WIN platform has been made with inclusion in mind. Inclusion has a number of steps…a mobile number (allowing for) four registrations so that everybody doesn’t have to have a smartphone. The fact that walk-ins are allowed is also a part of inclusion.”

One reason behind CSCs being ineffective, officials said, is the fact that many of them are closed because of the lockdown and curfew-like rules in most states. These centres, officials said, got the mandate to register people in the 18-45 age bracket only three weeks ago when the curbs had already kicked in.

“We have integrated the CoWin portal with CSC only recently. People in rural areas who do not have smart phones can come and register. The CSCs are being encouraged to mobilise the population and dispel any myths about vaccination,” said managing director of CSCs, Dinesh Kumar Tyagi.

“Myths” are also getting in the way. Confusing information around vaccine cost and even stray adverse effects have contributed to low numbers, officials said.

At one recent feedback meeting, where officials in New Delhi connected with CSC staff, the dual pricing policy was flagged as one concern.

Given the different rates floating around and the fact that states have to procure from the open market, there is a “general misconception,” an official said, that everyone will have to pay Rs 400 (the state government rate first announced by Serum for Covishield, it was later reduced to Rs 300) even if it’s a government centre, said an official.

“So word spread in many villages that for a family of eight, this cost, for two doses each, comes to Rs 6,400. There are also rumours about the composition of the vaccine, its side effects. We are working to educate and dispel these doubts,” the official said. —(With inputs from Prabha Raghavan)

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