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Technology companies, including Paytm, HealthifyMe’s and vaccinateme.in, are trying to help people grab the few vaccination slots available, although the workarounds are raising fears over whether they handicap the chances of the poor and older folks.

While the government has opened up covid-19 vaccination registrations for all adults on 1 May, appointment slots tend to disappear as soon as they become available. The tech companies are looking to address this by alerting users the moment a slot opens up.

The government’s CoWin website already deters those that are less tech-savvy from registering for a jab, and experts said the software workarounds, ostensibly aimed at helping users, puts the old and poor at a further disadvantage.

When the government’s vaccination drive started in March for people who are 60 years or older and those who are 45 or older with co-morbidities, the majority of people preferred to walk in rather than register through CoWin. Walk-ins have, however, been discontinued in the latest vaccination drive.

Most applications developed by the companies work as redirection portals and utilize the application programme interfaces (API) that are provided by the government through APIsetu.in.

“This is nothing but public information that the government provides on its website that we are also able to provide. We just package it in a more intuitive fashion to search, filter and navigate. And we also provide alerts on it," said Tushar Vashisht, chief executive and co-founder of HealthifyMe.

“We have close to 100,000 subscribers at this point," said Azhar Hussain, a product manager at Microsoft, who built the application tracking website getjab.in with other developers. The application was launched on 2 May.

Getjab.in provides email alerts to citizens who enter their pin code, district and mail IDs, while under45.in redirects users to specific Telegram groups with alerts based on district or pin codes.

But Hussain agrees that instead of offering access to the API, it would be easier for the government to integrate it with CoWin.

“Having a notification system would be one of the things that they could have added on over there (CoWin), because that would have been quite simple for them to implement as well, as they already have the information," he said.

Then there is the question of whether these platforms increase the load on CoWin servers.

The government has also addressed the concerns to an extent. On 5 May, the government said APIs are subject to a rate limit of 100 API calls, per 5 minutes, per IP. “The appointment availability data would now be cached and may be up to 30 minutes old," the government’s Setu website said.

This essentially means that slot-finding applications may not be able to provide real-time alerts on availability, but they could still help users find appointment slots.

Several, if not all, of the appointment-finding applications cater to users with smartphones. But some are trying to help the less tech-savvy, especially in villages.

Rural-focused fintech firm Spice Money has announced an initiative to help vaccinate the rural population through its ecosystem of 500,000 “adhikaris" (officials).

Adhikaris are representatives of Spice Money who assist users with cash deposits, mini-ATM, insurance and other services. They will also help rural residents register on the CoWin app.

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