Faulty Websites Hampering Vaccination Efforts?
By Thameenah Razeek
As the Government launched the second phase of the inoculation drive, extending it to senior citizens and pregnant mothers, the online software, which enables citizens to register for their vaccines and was specifically designed to drive the COVID-19 immunisation programme in the country, experienced glitches in registering beneficiaries.
The Information and Communication Technology Agency (ICTA) did not publicise the portal’s URL, but it was widely circulated on social media and shared hundreds of times on WhatsApp. Several beneficiaries reported challenges ranging from being unable to register, to not being able to get a slot when the inoculation was up for registration.
However, in defence, the ICTA stated that the site is legitimate, but has not yet gone live. They also blamed the Ministry of Health, claiming that they are waiting for the Ministry of Health to notify them of the vaccination centres.
Hiranya Samarasekara, Chief Technology Officer at ICTA, tweeted that the WhatsApp message circulating was not an official launch message. He was also convinced that the website would be available for registration by the end of May.
However, the beneficiaries were not fortunate enough to gain access to the website by the end of the previous week. Therefore, Ceylon Today inquired about Samarasekara's position. He said the website would no longer be operational. He justified his response by pointing out that the website was another failure and that the Health Ministry did not provide enough information in this connection.
The URL states that if eligible individuals have received the first dose of Covishield (AstraZeneca) vaccine and are awaiting the second dose, they should register using the vaccine.covid19.gov.lk/sign-in URL.
Samarasekara has never said the URL is forged, but he has said the website is still being developed as of the end of May.
At the beginning of June, his stance was drastically different. He said, “It appears that the website will no longer be available to the public, because they were unable to complete the final phase. We asked the Ministry of Health to provide us with information as soon as possible, so that we could publish the link on the website and provide access to all. However, we did not receive a proper response as to when they will be able to provide us with the information, nor did we receive statistics on the vaccination centres. As a result, the entire procedure has ground to a halt,” he said.
The next question that arises is, if a developed website has reached its final phase and they are still unable to complete it, what solution do they have? What will happen to the funds they set aside to create the website? Will they keep it as it is until they receive a response from the Health Ministry, or will they abandon the project?
In this connection, Samarasekara refused to provide information on the next step they hope to take or their backup plan.
The second question is how the website’s link got out. Samarasekara said calmly that it happens frequently and that there is nothing to worry about. Recently, many ICTA-created applications and websites have been blamed for data breaches.
Many people began to criticise the Government-owned agency for failing to respect the privacy of patients and consumers.
However, it appears that the ICTA is unconcerned about the data breach as well. He claimed that because the website was created as a collaboration, a stakeholder might break the link. There is also no particular restriction with the stakeholder that they are not allowed to release the URL before the formal launch, thus no action will be taken.
Despite the fact that he did not refute the URL’s validity, Samarasekara said they were willing to give the service not only to AstraZeneca vaccinated individuals, but also to others.
Health Secretary, Major General (Retired) Dr. Sanjeewa Munasinghe, said they have not received any information regarding the malfunctioning website, which they believe has already been created. He said they provided sufficient information for the website to be created. However, he was unaware of the malfunctioning website, and no one from ICTA had notified him of the insufficient data or the website's suspension.
Jayantha de Silva, Secretary of the Ministry of Information Technology, declared that the Ministry was committed to ICTA's efforts. “We collaborated closely with ICTA on this project, and we initially thought the knowledge gained would be beneficial to the public. We even planned to give all citizens who finished the immunisation programme, including the first and second doses, a certificate. The internationally recognised certificate will act as a passport for anyone who wishes to travel abroad when it becomes possible,” he said.
However, Dr. Munasinghe said they were unable to provide data for the certification approval.
Too many cooks
The College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka expressed their dissatisfaction with the country's COVID-19 vaccination campaign. They believe that there are too many decision-makers and a lack of coordination in the fight against the COVID-19 pandemic, which resulted in a slew of problems. They went on to say that impromptu decisions made in the vaccination campaign without a clear strategy to meet individual needs or respond to criticisms had resulted in chaos. The College of Community Physicians of Sri Lanka has noted a lack of a clear rollout plan, a lack of prioritisation of the available limited quantity of vaccines to minimise complications and deaths, inadequate planning leading to demand and supply mismatches, too many irrelevant stakeholders involved in the vaccine campaign, inadequate risk communication, and uncertainty at all levels.
Certain groups have made a concerted attempt to smear the widely applauded national public health immunisation programmes, according to the statement. As a result, the medical community is extremely concerned about the current situation. Authorities should allow technical professionals to run the vaccine campaign without undue interference.
Sri Lanka has also been the victim of a different type of vaccine fraud. When the Island Nation was preparing to launch its COVID-19 immunisation campaign to the public, social media posts surfaced suggesting herbal cures as an alternative to the vaccine. “Don't take the lethal corona vaccine,” the poster says in Sinhala. All those who receive the Government-provided COVID-19 vaccine will die within a year, as their bodies deteriorate. All of this is part of a plan to sell Sri Lanka to foreigners.”
The COVID-19 vaccine supply is increasing, and vaccination confidence is rising, but the distribution network is still vulnerable due to broken websites. Millions of Sri Lankans use websites that are frequently inoperable to schedule vaccination appointments. This is not only decreasing vaccination rates, but it is also discouraging some eligible persons from receiving the vaccine.
The most consumer-friendly place to begin is with the reason why everyone visits these sites: At a time when everyone, regardless of age or other medical conditions, is required to acquire at least one vaccination.
Some people are concerned about receiving the second dose, while others are concerned about receiving the first jab. People are at a loss as to what they should do, now that the Administration has taken such a different approach.
Many people believe that the COVID-19 vaccination drive can be streamlined, to ensure that the public's growing trust in the vaccine is not hampered by frustrating and occasionally broken websites. Sri Lankans who are debating whether or not to get vaccinated could be more willing if they learnt that booking appointments is easier. As the country strives to make eligibility easier, it may also make the process of putting shots into arms easier.