Digital divide can be defined as the difference in availability and use of technology among people. It is a malady for an economy as big as India to lag in digital connectivity. The silver lining is that we are bridging the gap rapidly. The pandemic tried to undo the progress made on that front by increasing poverty and therefore affecting people’s access to digital services. This is so because when there is no income due to joblessness, all the leftover money is spent on ration and not internet package. Apart from poor, the elderly also find it difficult to operate computers or smartphones. The lack of know-how was not a problem in pre-pandemic times but now since most of the vaccination campaign has gone digital, it has become a question of survival.
COWIN application and portal also called as COVID vaccine intelligence network was developed by the National Informatics Centre, Ministry of Electronics and IT. Earlier it was used for pulse polio and other important vaccination programmes by the Ministry of health and family welfare. The usage was expanded to cater to the needs of COVID vaccination. It is the only source of registration for the vaccine. Very few offline means are available for registration. Hence those who do not have access to phones or computers cannot register and take the vaccine. The elderly and poor are the worst affected because of a lack of digital sources and know-how.
The impact of this digital divide will compound the problem that arises from COVID. It will also slow down and limit vaccination drive which increases the probability of a third wave. Newer variants can cause havoc since the more the virus spreads and thrives, the more are the chances of it getting mutated. The relief that we all want from the pandemic will become more distant since many people will not be able to access the facility. As of now, the lack of vaccine is already a big problem and in the thick of things, government won’t be able to vaccinate people fast. Thus there is no reason for the centre to make offline registration as it can create confusion and act as the last straw for inviting the third wave. However, the government is responsible to all the citizens. Everyone should have a fair chance of accessing the vaccine despite the shortcoming they face. Then what are the possible solutions?
Vaccination centres should have provision for on the spot registration. This will not only help in giving people who are poor or who do not have phones to access the vaccine but will also curb the wastage of the vaccine. Doorstep vaccinations similar to doorstep testing in poor localities is another way. Certificate can be given to people or the officials who are providing vaccine can keep a digital record of the number of doses given to an individual. Delhi recently launched “Jaha vote, haha vaccine” campaign to use the sites of polling for vaccination.
Unprecedented times need unprecedented solutions. India is not fully digitalised. A large population remained aloof when the digital wave struck India. Therefore, vaccination policies should be more holistic in approach to reach the majority of the citizens as soon as possible.