The Health Ministry has partnered with WhatsApp to provide a new chatbot service to facilitate registration of the COVID-19 vaccination program across the country. Launched on Jan. 15, two days after the vaccination rollout, this is the first WhatsApp chatbot worldwide that helps medical workers to connect to their nearest health facilities to receive the jab. The Jakarta Post’s Budi Sutrisno sat down with WhatsApp Asia Pacific director of public policy Clair Deevy to learn more about the service.
Question: How did the collaboration begin and why Indonesia first?
Answer: As vaccines have become available, governments are really needing to work on their plans for vaccination and how they decide who gets it. From our point of view, this is less about selecting Indonesia and more that [Health Minister Budi Gunadi Sadikin] came in in the end of December with a very clear plan about getting vaccinations out.
For nine days, we worked with a local developer called DAM Corp to build this WhatsApp chatbot that allowed them to put the planning and the appointments out to frontline medical workers.
It’s exciting for me that we have this WhatsApp chatbot helping deliver vaccine in Indonesia, the first in the world to be doing it. I am sharing the examples of flowcharts and how Indonesia has planned it with other countries as I’m speaking to them to help them wrap their heads around it. So, this is really creating the benchmark for other ones that you’re going to see coming out in other areas around the world.
Is this chatbot going to be just for medical workers or the wider public as well?
This will be a long partnership with the Health Ministry. It’s designed in a way that, depending on their plan and who needs to be registered, it can be tailored accordingly. So, at the moment, the first priority as we were told is to get these frontline medical workers their vaccinations.
Why is it necessary to make a new chatbot and not place the features in the existing COVID-19 chatbot the government has been using?
The one that Kominfo [The Communications and Information Ministry] launched has been very focused on getting in its information service—What are the latest numbers? Where do I go for information? Can I check my symptoms?
The one for the Health Ministry is very particular to booking appointments to get your vaccinations. So, I think the Health Ministry has their own back-end databases that they need to work into, and it’s a more complicated flow because there is this back and forth around checking against the database as opposed to the other one.
Can you walk us through the registration process?
The first thing, there is a number that the Health Ministry has been promoting . You can add it to your contacts and you start a conversation with it. The first thing that comes is an automated message that asks you to confirm if you're a medical worker.
You get a list of options, and you use the last six digits of NIK [citizenship identification numbers] to register before you get confirmation on your vaccine and your location. There are also a few questions about health condition and your scheduled visit to confirm, and a QR code is shared with a video about how the vaccination will actually work for you.
I think [Communications and Information Minister Johnny G. Plate] mentioned in an interview that within the first five days, more than 500,000 medical workers had used the chatbot.
We’ve been getting some case studies from some that have used it, particularly those outside the main cities. Having something like WhatsApp, which works on such low bandwidth and they’re very familiar with, has really helped to get more of them up and using it.
Why is it important to launch an accessible platform to help the vaccination program?
For any government, the important thing for them is they’re working out a plan for vaccination; how you get this out to the right people at the right time. Once you’ve made the calls, the most important thing then is to get people in the system an appointment and do that as quickly and easy as possible.
What the WhatsApp chatbot has done is it has made it accessible to a whole load of medical workers in something that’s very familiar to them, so signing up for this vaccination doesn’t feel like something they put off.
Many Indonesians are very dependent on the messaging service for work and connecting with their loved ones. Alongside with the benefits, they also have been exposed to misinformation, especially during COVID-19. How is WhatsApp handling that?
Getting correct information out is critically important, so is addressing misinformation. For WhatsApp specifically, there's a few different ways. The first thing is we put in just enough friction that it's not easy for them to quickly send the information to everyone they know. We talked about kind of nudging them in the right direction.
In 2019 before COVID-19 even started, we reduced the number of forwarded messages to five tasks. So, when something came in, you could only send it to five groups at once. With that, globally we saw a reduction in 25 percent of forwarded messages.
As the pandemic all kicked off, we reduced the number of highly forwarded messages to only one group at a time. So, once it has that highly forwarded two arrows, you can manually send it to only one group, before that can happen again. With that, we saw a reduction of 70 percent of highly forwarded massages.
That's the first thing around what we can do to help encourage people to make better decisions and think about what they are sharing.
The second thing that we do is working with fact-checkers. Globally, we donated US$1 million to the international fact-checking network to address coronavirus misinformation. Closer at home, I've been working with MAFINDO [The Indonesian Anti-Slander Society] for three or four years around the chatbot that they have, and we continue to work with them because they're really plugged in locally.
The third part that we work on more broadly up until now but will definitely start shifting into misinformation is working with community groups at a grassroots level to provide education to people.
We did a big program last year around women in the home and how to educate them and setting them up. We did research and then provided trainers into the community. We've been working with ICT Watch now for more than a year, going to 12 cities last year alongside Kominfo just doing education on the basics of [misinformation and privacy].