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‘Ghost’ registrations on CoWin flummox users

Update: National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma who also heads the Empowered Group on Vaccine Administration responded to MediaNama’s queries. We are listing out his responses below along with our questions.

Question 1: MediaNama was able to verify few cases wherein the owner of a certain phone number had no idea that a person, stranger to them, had registered themselves for vaccination on their number. Sir, are you aware of such complaints from citizens?

RS Sharma: Such cases were reported from CoWIN 1.0 wherein data collection was done through Excel Sheet for healthcare workers and frontline workers. Registration of multiple beneficiaries with one number was done — like ASHA workers who don’t have mobile number will utilise mobile number of ANM or medical officer for registration.

The CoWIN 2.0 platform provides for registration of up to 4 persons with a mobile number. This facility is kept to facilitate vaccination wherein no member of  family owns a mobile phone. In which case, the family can take help of friends and family for registration on CoWIN.

The CoWIN system does have the security features in place to ensure that mobile number of someone is not used by anybody else for registration without consent. Yes, some such instances have been noticed in the past. On inquiry, it has been understood that the vaccinators and verifiers while doing on-site registration of beneficiaries made these errors.

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I would like to assure you that the security measures in place in CoWIN, do not allow anyone to access the portal through mobile phone number of somebody else without the consent of the mobile owner.

However, I would request you to share the details of instances that your team has noticed, so that these can be examined and the mistakes on part of the users (vaccinators and verifiers who do the on-site registration), can be corrected. (MediaNama has shared details of such persons after taking due permission from them regarding the same)

Question 2:  The persons MediaNama spoke to had a uniform query: “How can someone else register on CoWIN portal when one needs an OTP to sign in?” Could you please comment on the same?

RS Sharma: I would like to assure you that the security measures in place in CoWIN, do not allow anyone to access the portal through mobile phone number of somebody else without the consent of the mobile owner.

Question 3: How does the government plan to resolve and address such issues?

RS Sharma: We have impressed upon the States/UTs to ensure proper training of the verifiers and vaccinators and also to sensitize them to the importance of error-free data entry. The system maintains validations on the maximum numbers that can be registered (4) with a mobile phone. We are also putting in place a ticketing-based grievance redressal mechanism to empower citizens to raise a complaint if any such instances do occur in future. To further strengthen registration and vaccination process, CoWIN vaccinator module will have additional feature of entering a 4 digit security code before vaccination, to further prevent such errors.

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Earlier: Multiple users have seemingly been able to register themselves on the CoWIN portal — getting themselves vaccinated even — using someone else’s number, while the real owner was completely oblivious about the same. MediaNama was able to verify at least three such cases of ghost — wherein the owner of the number received an alert from CoWIN saying that a vaccination slot had been confirmed in someone else’s name.

National Health Authority CEO RS Sharma, who also heads the Empowered Group on Vaccine Administration told MediaNama that CoWIN system has security features that ensure that mobile number of someone was not used by anybody else for registration.

However, he also admitted that similar errors were recorded in the past. “On inquiry, it has been understood that the vaccinators and verifiers while doing on-site registration of beneficiaries made these errors. I would like to assure you that the security measures in place in CoWIN, do not allow anyone to access the portal through mobile phone number of somebody else without the consent of the mobile owner,” he added.

MediaNama also contacted the CoWIN portal helpline, wherein the technical team admitted to have received such complaints. A responder who handles the CoWIN software section of the helpline portal explained: “Unfortunately, by default, sometimes two people get the same number. So sometimes the registration happens in someone else’s name.”

It wasn’t clear whether this “same number” referred to phone numbers (which is technically impossible) or some unique reference ID on the CoWIN portal. The call was disconnected when we asked follow-up questions. We were not able to connect to the number again.

‘How did they register without OTP?’

On April 30, Pradeepta Kumar Sahoo, a 39-year-old chartered accountant from Odisha wanted to get himself registered for the vaccination drive of those between 18 and 45 years. However, he was in for a shock: when he logged into the portal using his phone number and OTP, he found that a Gangadhar Ojha had already registered himself as a beneficiary and even received his first vaccine dose as well.

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“I wanted to register on April 30 thinking that from May 1 the vaccination drive will commence. But when I logged into I found out that someone else had already gotten vaccinated on my number. How did Aarogya Setu register someone without sending me an OTP? I should be given the OTP,” Ojha said. He ended up registering by adding himself as a family member on a number that he owns.

Suyasha Sawhney from New Delhi, who works as a content writer faced a similar situation. Two weeks ago, she received a message from CoWIN, congratulating one ‘Suman Hada’ for getting their second dose of the vaccine.

Now when 24-year-old Sawhney tries to log in to the portal to schedule her own vaccine appointment, the portal redirects her to the vaccine certificate of Suman Hada. “That number is linked to my Aadhar card. When I log in through that number, it directly takes me to the page where they ask me to download vaccination certificate.”

Sawhney has since registered herself through the CoWIN portal using another number. “I would have added myself as a beneficiary but I do not know that person, so I did not do it,” she added.

Problem has been there for at least 3 months

This problem seems to have existed at least since February. A Noida resident, an IT employee by profession, received an SMS alert in February, when vaccinations were underway for frontline workers, that one Amit Mishra had scheduled an appointment on his number.

“I received a message from CoWIN saying that I have registered for vaccination but I had not received any OTP. The message even named the hospital,” the IT employee said on condition of anonymity.

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Following that, the person located the hospital, and talked with doctors there, but to no avail. He asked the hospital administration to get in touch with this Amit Mishra and ask him to change the registered number. He added that he has had this number for the last 10 years.

“I can not do anything about the person who is already registered. So I decided to just add myself as a family member for my vaccination,” said the Noida resident who falls under the 18-45 age group.

CoWIN portal, jittery?

Ever since the Central government announced the commencement of the registration for vaccinations of those between 18-45, the website has been rife with issues. Minutes after the registration for those between 18-45 years on the CoWIN portal opened, the website crashed.

Although the error was fixed after sometime, and many were able to register, it is unlikely if anyone could set an appointment for vaccination. Even to this day, vaccination centres across most cities on the Cowin portal show that it is not accepting appointments for those below 45 years.

Also read:

Update (8.48 pm): Added the entire transcript of National Health Chairman RS Sharma’s response to the story at the beginning and made necessary changes.

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