One crore Covid Vaccines per day! Nandan Nilekani on how Aadhaar-enabled digital platform can help India

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Updated: Oct 09, 2020 8:40 AM

Coronavirus vaccine: The vaccinations can also be made a part of the corporate social responsibility so that companies can invest in such programmes against their CSR obligations, he added.

Aadhaar architect Nandan Nilekani.

Covid-19 vaccine news: Ahead of the roll-out of a credible Covid-19 vaccine, India needs to set up a mammoth digital platform replicating the Aadhaar model, to aid the vaccination programme that must aim at delivering as many as 8-10 million doses a day, Infosys co-founder Nandan Nilekani suggested at The Indian Express Idea Exchange.

Explaining his idea, the former chief of the Unique Identification Authority of India (UIDAI) said: “We can have a training system for 2,00,000 people to become authorised vaccinators…and there will be a network of public and private vaccination centres. Aadhaar can be used here for authentication. It will involve a common digital platform. Those vaccinated will get a digital certificate as a proof of vaccination.”

If the vaccine is a double-dose one, Nilekani said, this meant India needed to deliver 260 crore vaccines, and even if this is done over a 9-10 month time-frame, it cannot be done without a strong technology backbone. An Aadhaar-type backbone would be critical for, initially, sending messages to people to come for their initial, and later repeat, vaccine while the use of Aadhaar would help create a record of those vaccinated. Since there will be a surfeit of vaccines eventually, and it is not certain which will work and which will fail, a technology back-end allows 24×7 monitoring. Indeed, this gets even more important as it is not clear how long the vaccine will be effective for; we may end up repeating the doses every year, Nilekani said.

Highlighting the enormity of the vaccination challenge, Nilekani said the Aadhaar system enrolled 1.5 million citizens a day and it took the UIDAI five-and-a-half years to cover a billion-plus people. “(But) here the entire population needs to be vaccinated in 2 years. If it’s a dual-dose vaccination, it would mean 2.6 billion vaccinations in 2 years. That is over 100 million vaccinations a month, which is more than 3 million a day. So this is a scale challenge which is unprecedented in our history,” he added.

On the issue of pricing, Nilekani said the government has to bear the responsibility of vaccinating a large segment of the population for free through programmes like the Ayushman Bharat, while the private sector needs to take the onus of vaccinating their employees as well as family members. The vaccinations can also be made a part of the corporate social responsibility so that companies can invest in such programmes against their CSR obligations, he added.

Asked about an antitrust proposal by the US House of Representatives that contains a “thinly veiled call to break up” large technology firms like Apple, Amazon, Facebook and Google, the non-executive chairman of Infosys said he believed in using the technology to solve any issue relating to technology itself. “The best antidote for all this is technology and rules for technology done in an innovative way, which is what India is doing”. “By creating a neutral ID system like Aadhaar or a UPI platform which allows multiple fintech companies and banks to participate, we have democratized access to identity and payments”.

Responding to a question as to why India, despite having highly talented professionals to head giant global tech corporations, hasn’t been able to create a Facebook or a Google, Nilekani said, unlike the US, our country doesn’t have a large digital advertising market worth hundreds of billions of dollars. Even Chinese players like Alibaba and Tencent had the benefit of a large local market as well as government protection to grow in strength before they went overseas to acquire further scale. India’s digital advertising in 2019 stood at just `13,683 crore, according to a report by the Dentsu Aegis Network.

The issue of fake news through social media, Nilekani said, had its origins in the fact that social media is treated like a platform – the village square – where the owners have no legal liability for what is posted. If, however, “like you guys”, there is a process of holding the platform responsible, things could look different.

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