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Vi, Paytm, and HealthifyMe: Who is using CoWIN’s booking API?

These services have only been authorised to allow people to view what slots are available even as the government plans to release an open-source version of CoWIN for other countries.

There is a small but growing list of private companies that are taking advantage of newly introduced norms that let third parties use the government’s CoWIN platform to book vaccination slots on third-party apps or websites. The rush started on May 28, when the Ministry of Health & Family Welfare put out guidelines that set out the norms for booking vaccines.

While multiple services are taking advantage of open APIs that merely fetch information on vaccine slot availability, only a few have registered to directly offer vaccine registrations. These companies are:

  • Paytm (June 15): A couple of weeks after the government put out its guidelines on data use, Paytm announced that its in-app vaccine slot finder was being updated to allow users to directly book slots. This presumably means that the company has registered as an Application Service Provider. This made Paytm the first company to provide the service.
  • HealthifyMe (July 6): On Tuesday, fitness and health app HealthifyMe announced that it had “acqui-hired” Under45, a volunteer-led effort to provide notifications of vaccine appointments. However, in addition to the notifications, HealthifyMe said it had obtained an ASP registration from the government, permitting it to directly offer slot bookings from inside the app.
  • Vodafone Idea (July 8): On Thursday, Vodafone Idea said it would provide slot bookings through the Vi app. However, this process isn’t like that of HealthifyMe and Paytm, as while the slot discovery happens in-app, users are redirected to the CoWIN website to actually reserve their slots.

Background

The government has gone from not allowing any API access to the CoWIN platform, to allowing read-only access to services that would only allow people to view what slots are available. In April, the government selectively provided access to some services but denied the same clearance to an NGO called StepOne, which said it was using open APIs made available by the government.

Application Programming Interfaces (APIs) allow a platform or service to connect to other platforms and services. APIs are an integral part of programming. Open APIs allow any service or app to freely connect to a resource, and are generally published openly. In CoWIN’s case, some aspects of the open API require prior registration.

While the government had said at the time that it would first need a data capture policy to dictate what information is collected by third parties, this requirement was seemingly not paid much heed to, as the government opened up read-only APIs in late April. A month later, the government published the aforementioned norms for what data can be collected and used by such third parties.

CoWIN and vaccinations

Registering for vaccines through the CoWIN portal had been made mandatory for anyone over the age of 18 who wants to get vaccinated and don’t fall under the category of a healthcare or frontline worker. However, this rule was changed on June 15 when the Ministry of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) announced that any adult could walk in and register.

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The government said that around 50 countries have shown interest in the platform and that it would put out an open-source version of the service that other countries can implement. At the launch of the portal, the platform was subject to bugs and crashes, and vaccine appointments ran out in seconds as newly eligible young people rushed to book them. The government had justified the CoWIN booking requirement for getting vaccinated as a way to control crowds at vaccination centres.

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I cover the digital content ecosystem and telecom for MediaNama.

MediaNama’s mission is to help build a digital ecosystem which is open, fair, global and competitive.

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