Vaccination Slots Being Exploited, APIs Manipulated By Digital Technicians And Data Scientists

The digitalization of India has helped the citizens with several government-related documents and registrations. From Aadhar Card to Passport, all verifications, appointments, and documentation can be edited, renewed, and maintained on a new application within the country. With everyone forced to live inside their homes, the importance of digitalization was appreciated, especially during the pandemic this year.

As the pandemic continues to ravage India, the Health and the Central Governance have made efforts to make the healthcare facility efficient for the citizens to use and ease the frontier medical/ healthcare workers’ work country. Arogya Setu was one of the major leading applications that helped people create awareness about the active cases in their locality and mark the virus’s progression all over the country.

As the vaccination drive started in the country, vaccination centers have seen a massive rush of citizens to get vaccinated for the virus. But such huge numbers have strained the healthcare system.

Thus the Central Government formulated an online portal for the registration of vaccination slots for the citizens. Primarily the application was designed for the healthcare workers so that they can have a systematic approach towards rolls of the vaccination taking place from January 2021. The online portal is called CoWIN – Covid Vaccine Intelligence Network. The application soon opened up for the citizens to fill out the application and book appointments/slots for their vaccinations.

It includes four modules: a user administrator module, beneficiary registration, vaccine and beneficiary recognition, and status update. The application assists in defining target groups, keeping track of those who are given doses, and avoiding malpractices. Text messages will be sent in 12 languages to guide those waiting to be vaccinated and health workers involved in vaccination. After all of the doses have been administered, a QR code-based vaccination certificate will be given, which people can save on their phone.

But every application comes with its pros and cons. The Cowin application has been the talk of the town, as slots and availability of places are getting manipulated by Application Programming Interface (API) as digital techies and data scientists have observed the exploitation of portal’s transparency.

The government has taken three significant steps to curb these malpractices of API communication to solve these problems:

  • Several new websites use Cowin APIs to get real-time vaccine slot availability information.
  • The government now wants to limit them because they often result in hundreds of slots being booked in minutes.
  • The APIs were designed to help hospitals run a more efficient vaccination campaign.

The APIs were made public so that private hospitals could access real-time data on their systems. As a result, these centers will be able to have quicker vaccinations. However, the government has discovered that some technology professionals have been abusing the portal’s openness using these APIs. As a result, they were able to book vaccine slots quicker than most. The government also pointed out that the parties in question had set up websites or Telegram networks to warn other users searching for vaccination slots. Hundreds of places were booked in minutes as a result of this.

The government has now restricted access to these APIs to stop these activities. In a recent note to developers, API Setu said, “These APIs are subject to a rate limit of 100 API calls every 5 minutes per IP.” The move comes as India prepares to launch the next phase of its vaccination campaign, which will face a shortage of vaccine units.

People between the ages of 18 and 45 are now registered for the Covid-19 vaccine, but appointments have been challenging to come by in many parts of the country. The official vaccine registration and appointment booking site, Cowin, does not alert users when a slot becomes available next. To stay up to date, users had to return to the website regularly. Several portals devised the idea of sending slot availability updates to registered users in their area to address this problem.

Users can only book slots via the Cowin portal, even though they are informed. The portals’ sole purpose was to alert users when slots were available, not to make reservations. The government believes that this activity is unfair to those who do not use such notification services. As a result, data sharing through APIs for real-time vaccine availability information is now limited

Samrudhi Patil

Final Year student of Mass Communication with a special interest in the field of journalism. An aspiring feature journalist with a fueling passion for travel, culture, lifestyle, music, and food. I believe in bringing out the undiscovered and have a willingness to work hard and go beyond the comfort zone to get the work done. Music and Culture are the beats that get me going and inspires me to try and be the best version of myself.

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