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India piloting Aadhaar-based facial recognition for COVID-19 vaccinations

vaccine syringe

The Indian government is piloting a Aadhaar-based facial recognition system for COVID-19 vaccinations, RS Sharma, chief executive officer of the National Health Authority told The Print. The pilot is being carried out in Jharkhand, which is reporting over 1,000 successful authentications via facial recognition on a daily basis at the vaccination sites, he said.

Sharma said that Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) has deployed “the best facial recognition algorithms which we will be utilising now”.. The move will make the vaccination process “touchless”, he said. Individuals are currently authenticating their biometrics, either using their fingers or iris. Separately, Sharma said that Co-WIN can handle millions of registrations, and can bear loads of 10,000 users per second. It has already generated 3 million digital certificates for COVID-19 immunisation.

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It’s worth noting that Sharma is the chairperson of the empowered committee for administraion of the COVID-19 vaccine; he has also served as UIDAI chief, apart from heading the Telecom Regulatory Authority of India for two consecutive terms.

As chairman of the empowered committee on vaccine administration, Sharma has previously urged states to  eliminate “proxies” during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout by using Aadhaar to identity beneficiaries. At the time, Sharma essentially indicated that there would be no duplication if Aadhaar authentication is performed.

The use of Aadhaar for rolling out COVID-19 vaccines has been around for months, when it was first suggested by prominent personalities such as Nandan Nilekani, co-founder of Infosys and Aadhaar-architect, and Kiran Mazumdar Shaw, chairperson and managing director of Biocon Limited.

Nilekani had said in October 2020 that the Indian government should use the “Aadhaar model” while rolling out an eventual COVID-19 vaccine. Also a former UIDAI chief, he had proposed that Aadhaar could be used to authenticate the population before vaccination. People who get vaccinated would also get a “digital certificate” as proof of vaccination, he added. Nilekani claimed this model would help deliver as many as 8-10 million doses in a single day.

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