These services have only been authorized to allow users to view the slots available, even if the government plans to release an open source version of CoWIN to other countries.
There is a small but growing list of private companies taking advantage of newly introduced standards that allow third parties to use the government’s CoWIN platform to book vaccination slots on third-party apps or websites. The onslaught began on May 28 when the Department of Health and Family Welfare issued guidelines setting standards for booking vaccines.
While several services use open APIs that only retrieve information about vaccine slot availability, few have registered to offer vaccine registrations directly. These companies are:
- Payment (June 15th): A few weeks after the government published its data usage guidelines, Paytm announced that it was updating its in-app vaccine slot finder to allow users to book slots directly. This presumably means that the company has registered as an application service provider. Paytm was the first company to offer this service.
- HealthifyMe (July 6th): On Tuesday, the fitness and health app HealthifyMe announced that it had “acquired” Under45, a volunteer-led initiative to provide vaccine schedule notifications. In addition to the notifications, HealthifyMe said It had obtained ASP registration from the government which enabled it to offer slot bookings directly from the app.
- Vodafone idea (July 8th): Vodafone idea on Thursday said it would offer slot bookings through the Vi app. However, this process is not comparable to that of HealthifyMe and Paytm as the users are redirected to the CoWIN website during the slot detection in the app to actually reserve their slots.
The government has stopped allowing API access to the CoWIN platform, just allowing read-only access to services that only allow people to view the available slots. In April, the government selectively granted access to some services, but denied the same permit to an NGO called StepOne, which claimed to use 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 any resource and are generally published openly. In the case of CoWIN, some aspects of the open API require prior registration.
While the government had said at the time that a data collection policy was required first to determine what information is being collected from third parties, that requirement has apparently not received much attention as the government opened read-only APIs in late April. A month later, the government published the above standards for what data can be collected and used by such third parties.
CoWIN and vaccinations
Registration for vaccines via the CoWIN portal was compulsory for anyone over the age of 18 who would like to be vaccinated and who do not fall under the category of health or frontline workers. However, this rule was changed on June 15 when the Department of Health and Family Welfare (MoHFW) announced that any adult can enter and register.
The government said that around 50 countries have shown interest in the platform and that it will release an open source version of the service that other countries can implement. When the portal launched, the platform was exposed to bugs and crashes, and vaccine appointments expired in seconds as newly eligible young people rushed to book them. The government had justified the CoWIN booking obligation for the vaccination by controlling the crowds in the vaccination centers.