How many millennials does it take to change a lightbulb? None, they are all waiting for vaccination slots on CoWIN.
It was 4 pm on 30 April 2021 that the floodgates opened. There was panic, there was chaos, there was refreshing of the phone browser and last-minute dash to find a photo of the Aadhaar card. For the first time in weeks, there was some humour mixed in with the usual anger and frustration on Twitter, Facebook and Instagram. Lakhs of young Indians (‘18+’ as they are called now) were waiting for an OTP.
This was going to be the most important OTP this year. It was the key to getting out of the Covid mess, the key to keeping our families and friends safe, the key to being alive as the second wave of coronavirus made landfall in India. With the Narendra Modi government letting go of the wheel and the courts asking governments to “beg, borrow, steal” oxygen, getting vaccinated was the only solution.
Except, once we did get the OTP, there was another hurdle to cross, which can best be described as gambling. You did the math, gave your pin code, and waited for vaccine slots to become available. Didn’t win the fastest-finger-first round? Try tomorrow. Got the vaccination certificate without taking the shot? Remember to produce the four-digit code, a new security feature in the CoWIN app, at the vaccination centre, if you are lucky enough to get a slot. You see, the Modi government opened Covishield and Covaxin vaccinations, but there weren’t enough vaccines. On Twitter, getting registered but not getting a slot was described as saying “I love you, but as a friend.” Millennials were involved, there had to be some sarcasm.
18+ to 45 cowin pic.twitter.com/xzllTTl5RJ
— The Daily Hera Pheri Meme Project (@dailyherapheri) May 1, 2021
Vaccine registration in India. pic.twitter.com/ps9P2pZGeH
— Mohanakrishnan (@mokrish) April 30, 2021
But over 1.2 crore registrations on CoWIN, the government portal set up for the purpose, on the first day showed that India has had enough. We are done tweeting and WhatsApping for oxygen, ambulance, hospital beds, remdesivir, and even space in crematoriums. We are now booking a slot, lining up at the vaccination centres, getting whatever vaccine we can get. So, millennials queued up, sometimes for hours in the sun, for that elusive shot. And that is ThePrint’s Newsmaker of the Week.
Millennials in India are now between the age of 25 and 40 — almost the exact age group for whom the vaccinations have opened up in the third phase. They are the mobile group, the ones working long hours and also procuring supplies for their ill relatives and friends, and sometimes, even succumbing to Covid. And they are vulnerable, most with very little savings themselves. But the majority of them have a phone — in rural or urban India.
Young Indians have been asking for vaccinations for quite some time now, especially for the comorbid — those with cancer, hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, etc. But they were only granted that wish in the middle of India’s worst Covid days — with daily infections and deaths reaching record highs. Although, many under-45 did get vaccines earlier — including former Maharashtra CM Devendra Fadnavis’ nephew Tanmay. Now, millennials are also the first group who can choose the vaccine they will get at private centres. However, for most, just getting a slot is enough, regardless of the vaccine being offered. The same millennials who had been called “anti-vaxxers” because they questioned efficacy numbers and power of vaccines against mutant strains are convincing others to stand in line. Because if you don’t now, we will all pay a higher price.
Outside government schools, private hospitals, jumbo centres, there are long serpentine lines in India’s major cities this week. The vaccination numbers that seemed to have dipped in end-April, is picking up again. Instagram influencers are rushing in to show that they have been vaccinated and helping out their followers with questions they may have — including, how can I register, and can I drink after my shot? If you have more questions — such as if you can take the shot after getting Covid — read science editor Sandhya Ramesh’ article this week.
It’s another story that a group of coders is trying to crack the rigid CoWIN system, get slots and alert others when vaccines are available.
But between jibes and jabs, there is another India where vaccines haven’t even reached. Neither has the CoWIN app. What has reached is a bit of hesitancy.
Rural vs urban India
Vaccines at private hospitals can cost you Rs 400-Rs 1,200 — something few young Indians can afford. So, obviously, the long queues seen today are only visible in top tier cities of the country. Not all millennials in India can vaccine and chill. Two things are proving to be quite the bump. The programme is seeing a rural-urban divide, and pan-India misgivings about the vaccines. Most towns and villages in India haven’t been able to procure enough vaccines to start inoculation of the 18-44 age group. In a country where the Union government refuses 100 per cent free vaccination for all, this was bound to happen.
Sajid Ali, who is reporting for ThePrint from Uttar Pradesh and Bihar, said that in many rural districts, the youth do want to turn up, but there are either no slots on CoWIN or too many rumours doing the rounds. Rumours like you’ll get Covid if you get vaccinated, or that you’ll lose your ‘manhood’. A more disturbing one is that you’ll die within two years. All are just that, rumours, and fake news. Don’t fall for them. Get vaccinated. In Uttar Pradesh, journalist Moushumi Das Gupta told me, vaccination for those in the 18-44 age bracket is just restricted to 7 of the 75 districts currently because of the shortage.
ThePrint’s Jyoti Yadav said not everyone in rural north India knows about the CoWIN app. In rural Madhya Pradesh, Revathy Krishnan reported that CoWIN wasn’t the issue, and in many cases, ASHA workers going door-to-door were able to convince the men and women to take the vaccine.
But even as young India overcomes its hesitancy and gears up for the shot, waiting for slots on CoWIN is like waiting for your board exam/civil services results — you hit refresh every second and then the site stops updating. And your future looks bleaker and bleaker.
The booked slots are a problem of the ‘announce-now, plan-later’ method that India loves so much. With governments more involved in image PR than health and information, India’s youth is losing precious time. This is when a third wave is already on its way, and expected to hit the younger ones more. We want to queue up across the country, but where are the vials? India’s millennials want vaccine maitri, but all they are getting are blue double ticks.
Views are personal.
(Edited by Prashant Dixit)