Service unavailableThey should have made sure the online registration system was crashproof.
Last month, when the government enforced a prohibitory order to break the chain of transmission as daily new infections spiked exponentially, the Kathmandu District Health Office also suspended the vaccination campaign launched for everyone between the ages of 18-59. The fortnight leading to a situation out of control with record deaths and infections had seen serpentine queues outside vaccination centres to receive their first dose of the China-donated Vero Cell vaccine. People spent the entire day jostling each other in the sweltering heat with no certainty that they would get the jab while the risks of acquiring the virus were high sans any crowd management measures.
The government’s utter failure to anticipate the chaos that its unplanned rollout would bring angered the public, which called for effective management and a scientific registration system. Now that the government has introduced an online registration system while also preparing to roll out the second doses of Vero Cell, the bedlam has also gone digital. At the time of writing, the Health Ministry’s online registration link—vaccine.mohp.gov.np—returned a "503 | Service Unavailable" error, indicating the link is down for maintenance, or a spike in traffic has overwhelmed the server.
The ministry should have foreseen such a situation as more people compete to get vaccinated, among other valid concerns related to vaccine equity, privacy and ethical considerations while collecting personal information. Authorities need to be wary that we cannot rely on incompetent people while handling sensitive data of this scale, and they should do the needful if a robust website is beyond its scope. They should have made sure the online registration system was crashproof before it was launched in the public domain. The ministry should also immediately consult data security experts to secure the website and prevent any data theft.
If designed and executed properly, an online registration system will relieve both the government and the public from unwanted stress and paperwork hassles. As and when the government manages to procure the vaccines, a robust backend to process the data can help authorities make informed decisions to plan the vaccine rollout in a fair, scheduled and efficient manner. These are simple issues with simple solutions. However, the ministry has to establish a clear line of communication with the public, for there has been too much confusion since the link first appeared on social media channels on Tuesday evening.
Is the online registration system for the people seeking first-time appointments? Why does the form question one’s ethnic background? How will the ministry process the data it collects? What will be the protocol for scheduling appointments? What is the government’s plan to reach out to the people who do not have access to technology or lack the know-how to fill up an online form? What measures will ensure data safety? These are questions the government must clarify, besides addressing technical glitches without delay so that more people sign up for the vaccines.
The failure to anticipate what a pandemic can do and deploy science-guided measures has been the hallmark of the Oli administration. The bureaucracy has also been rubber-stamping crucial decisions needed to tackle the second wave. Poor governance is killing people more than the coronavirus as the administration fails to envision an exit strategy and follow through with its own decisions and protocols. We cannot lose more time while we have the window to plan an effective vaccination campaign. Without the jabs reaching each arm, there is no way out of this pandemonium.