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Srinagar: On the evening of September 12, south Kashmir resident Tariq Ahmad received an SMS alert on his smartphone. He thought it was spam.
“Dear Mohd Khalil, You have successfully been vaccinated with your second dose of Covishield on 12-09-2021 at 10: 58 AM,” said the message, sent by CoWIN, the Union government’s much touted technology arm for the COVID-19 vaccination drive.
Moments later, the phone beeped again: “Dear Mohd Khalil, congratulations. You have successfully completed the schedule of all the doses of COVID-19 vaccine. You can download your certificate from cowin.gov.in – CoWIN.”
But Mohammad Khalil had died more than three months ago.
A resident of Malakhnag in south Kashmir’s Anantnag district, he passed away in May this year, after he had received the first jab.
“He had given my phone number to register for his first vaccine dose. I was dumbfounded after reading the message that he had taken the second dose three months after he died,” Tariq, his neighbour, told The Wire.
A pharmaceutical trader, Tariq tried to speak with the health officials in Anantnag district, “They were perplexed too. They told me it could be an aberration or a technical fault,” he said.
Many in Kashmir have received fake messages from CoWIN which declares them or a person known to them as ‘fully vaccinated’, even though they may have taken only one dose of the vaccine so far.
The CoWIN platform is linked to the Union government’s National Health Portal and has been offered by the prime minister as a “digital public good” to the world. However, amidst reports of glitches, wrong certification and similar mistakes, the UK government has said that the app’s functioning and security protocols are a hurdle in greenlighting travel without quarantine for vaccinated Indians.
At least a dozen people based in Kashmir who spoke with The Wire claimed to have received a message from CoWIN platform declaring them ‘fully vaccinated’ when they were, in fact, not fully vaccinated. The Wire was able to independently verify their claims.
Among them are two spokespersons of the National Conference – Imran Nabi Dar and Ifra Jan – a doctor, two teachers and a businessman. All are registered with the CoWIN platform and have got their first jab.
The message has an embedded weblink to the CoWIN platform and after a user verifies their credentials through a one time password, they are directed to the platform’s page where they can download the ‘fully vaccinated’ certificate.
Some of the CoWIN users have already downloaded their ‘fully vaccinated’ certificates, even though they have not taken their second jab, while others have not.
Majid, resident of a north Kashmir district, passed away in August this year. But his son got a message on September 11, stating that his father had completed his COVID-19 vaccination schedule on that day.
The family wants to stay anonymous and the son identified his father only by his first name out of fear of government reprisal.
“It is a closed chapter for us. We don’t want to talk about it. If we speak with the media, the government will come after us and frame us in a false case,” he said, sharing a screenshot of the message from the CoWIN platform.
Several doctors in Kashmir, who spoke with The Wire requesting anonymity, said it was an “unfortunate development” at a time when the coronavirus continues to pose grave risks to public health. One doctor, who got fully vaccinated by March, showed a message he received a few days ago from the CoWIN platform, noting that he was fully vaccinated.
“Either this is a technical fault or a deliberate and criminal attempt to fudge vaccination data. In both the cases, it will certainly undermine the efforts of the healthcare workers who have put their lives at stake to control the spread of the disease,” one doctor posted at a prominent hospital in Srinagar, said.
Mohammad Aehsan, a resident of Bandipora in north Kashmir who also got a CoWIN message on Friday, said the authorities, however, have not come out with an official statement on this.
“Without a push of data into the system, how can the system generate an SMS on its own? The government hasn’t issued a rebuttal to this so called ‘technical fault’ so far. And even if it is a technical fault, it demonstrates the complete failure of the government,” Aehsan, a software professional, said.
A top official in J&K administration said these messages were “very unusual” since the process of registration on CoWIN is based on the Aadhaar, “J&K has done extremely well in its fight against COVID-19. We have no intention of fudging data. In fact, we want everyone eligible to be fully vaccinated by October 15, but this can prove a spoiler,” he said.
Dr Saleem-ur-Rehman, Director of General Health, Family Welfare and Immunisation, J&K, said the cases cited in this story may have got the message due to “official oversight” at the time when the data is fed into the system.
The doctor, however, admitted that the administration doesn’t have the exact number of people who got the message from CoWIN,“Whenever we get these complaints, we rectify the error by giving them the second dose immediately,” he said, without elaborating on whether such persons will have been eligible for the second dose at the time or not.