Aishwarya Ramesh

WhatsApp is the latest company to introduce vaccine booking on its platform

With the help of a chatbot, users can now book a vaccination slot by sending a message and then entering the OTP on WhatsApp.

WhatsApp has just announced a tie-up with the Indian government to facilitate vaccine slot bookings for individuals. Saving a number gives the users access to a chatbot which, in turn, lets them book a vaccination slot at a nearby location at a convenient time.

WhatsApp is the latest brand to step in and allow users to book vaccine slots on its own platform – avoiding the COWIN portal altogether. Other brands that do so include Paytm, Airtel (with its Airtel Thanks app), PhonePe, Ixigo (a travel booking platform), Reliance MyJio and HealthifyMe (a health and lifestyle-based app).

Additionally, some brands have been running campaigns to encourage people to get vaccinated. The main difference is that these campaigns focus on vaccine hesitancy (i.e., fears and insecurities about the effectiveness and side effects of the vaccine). Whereas what WhatsApp and a host of other brands are doing – is making the process of booking a vaccine slot itself a lot easier.

Back when the government had announced its vaccination drive, people complained that the portal (COWIN) was not user-friendly. People found that they were unable to book a slot, or they would get a slot at a hospital which was very far away. It is a less than ideal situation when people were advised to stay at home and not venture out during the second COVID wave to stop the pandemic from spreading.

Talking about WhatsApp’s initiative, N Chandramouli, chief executive officer, Trust Research Advisory (a brand intelligence and data insights company), says that if a person has to learn to navigate a portal, such as COWIN, it is a different affair. If brands give them an alternative to book the vaccine slot, without having to navigate the COWIN interface, then the consumers will choose that option.

“The trend is to lean towards simpler things, when it comes to how we use technology. Like it or not, WhatsApp is here to stay, despite the privacy concerns that people had around the app.” Chandramouli compares WhatsApp’s presence in India to WeChat’s presence in China, which reaches every single citizen. Making the process of booking a vaccination slot easier helps the users overcome vaccine hesitancy that they may have in their minds, to some extent, he adds.

N Chandramouli
N Chandramouli

When asked if brands like PhonePe, Paytm and WhatsApp dabbling in vaccine booking will help increase consumer trust in these brands, he says that all these brands are trying to compete with each other. But WhatsApp has unparalleled reach – especially since small business owners also use the messaging service.

“You really can’t compare WhatsApp offering a vaccine booking option to other brands offering it because of how frequently people use WhatsApp in a day. When privacy concerns came about, people did install Telegram and Signal, but we never really used them that often. We just went back to using WhatsApp.”

The vaccine booking service is the latest in a slew of services that WhatsApp has introduced this year. After a tussle with the government, WhatsApp introduced Payments earlier this year. WhatsApp Payments is a service that allows users to send and receive money through the messaging app itself. Though payment platforms like Google Pay have a chat option, WhatsApp became the first messaging platform to also offer payments in India.

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