Union health minister Harsh Vardhan said free vaccines would be provided in the first phase to the highest priority beneficiaries, including one crore healthcare and two crore frontline workers. Photo: Facebook/Dr Harsh Vardhan.
New Delhi/Chennai: As India came closer to the roll-out of COVID-19 vaccine, a dry run was held by all states and union territories on Saturday in preparation for a massive inoculation drive, with Health Minister Harsh Vardhan appealing to people not to be misguided by “rumours” and disinformation regarding the safety and efficacy of the vaccine.
Vardhan said that free vaccine would be provided in the first phase to the most prioritised beneficiaries, including one crore healthcare and two crore frontline workers. He said the details of how 27 crore priority beneficiaries – those above 50 years of age and those below it having comorbidities – would be vaccinated until July were being finalised.
In the national capital, where the dry run was held at three sites, Delhi health minister Satyendar Jain said that free coronavirus vaccine will be provided to the people in the city. Interacting with reporters during a visit to a facility in Daryaganj, he said the system “seems flawless” as of now.
The dry run involved 286 session sites spread across 125 districts. India has reported 1.03 crore COVID-19 cases so far and the exercise was held on a day an expert panel of the central drug authority recommended granting permission for restricted emergency use of the indigenously developed COVID-19 vaccine, Covaxin, with certain conditions, after giving similar direction for the Oxford vaccine Covishield.
“The states and UTs have expressed complete satisfaction on the successful conduct of the dry run which included the operational process and its linkages with the Co-WIN Software,” the Union Health Ministry said in a statement.
More than 75 lakh beneficiaries have been registered on Co-WIN software – an application the health ministry has developed for real-time information on vaccine stocks, storage conditions and local availability, according to the statement.
Besides state capitals, some states also included districts that are situated in difficult terrain or have poor logistical support in the exercise, officials said.
Maharashtra, Kerala and Gujarat conducted the mock drill in four districts each, Karnataka and Tamil Nadu in five districts each while Rajasthan carried out the dry-run in seven districts.
The first dry run was conducted in Andhra Pradesh, Assam, Gujarat and Punjab on December 28-29 with at least 125 intended beneficiaries at five sites in a maximum of two districts each.
Specific teams were formed for various tasks conducted on Saturday’s rehersal by the district administrations and activities like uploading of dummy beneficiary data, session site creation, vaccine allocation, communicating vaccination details to beneficiaries and vaccinators, and beneficiary mobilisation, etc were carried out.
“I appeal to the people not to be misguided by rumours regarding safety and efficacy of COVID-19 vaccine. We will not compromise on any protocol before approving a vaccine,” Vardhan said underlining that vaccine hesitancy was an issue even when the country started polio immunisation drive, but “we must remember its success”.
The health minister has been credited with doing pioneering work in the successful mass pulse polio immunisation programme.
It is as a result of our steadfastness and dedication, that India was declared polio-free in 2014. Our rich learning from the earlier immunisation drives including the Polio vaccination campaign is being used to guide our present countrywide COVID19 vaccination campaign,” he was quoted as saying in a statement.
Guidelines for the nationwide dry run were updated based on the feedback from the insightful pilot dry run held on Monday and Tuesday in four states, Vardhan said.
On Saturday, the dry run was conducted at identified health centres in Nagpur, Jalna, Pune and Nandurbar districts of Maharashtra.
In Kerala, at least 25 health workers each in four districts- Thiruvananthapuram, Idukki, Wayanad and Palakkad – took part in the drill.
“The Centre has informed us that the state will receive the adequate stock of vaccine within two-three days, state health minister K.K. Shailaja said at Peroorkkada where the trial run was being held at the government district hospital.
The state has completed all preparations,” she said.
Delhi health minister Jain said 1,000 vaccine centres will be set up across the city. When asked if the vaccine will be free of cost, he said, “Yes, and in Delhi the treatment and medicines are given for free.”
The Delhi government is fully prepared to receive, store and administer COVID-19 vaccine to 51 lakh priority category persons in the city in the first phase of vaccination, Jain said.
In West Bengal, the dry run was held at urban primary health centres in Duttabad and Madhyagram and Amdanga Rural Hospital in North 24 Parganas district.
A senior official in Assam said the dry run will continue regularly in the state till actual vaccination takes place.
Uttar Pradesh Chief Minister Yogi Adityanath said the COVID-19 vaccine will be available in the state close to the Makar Sankranti festival which will be celebrated on January 14.
He said that a dry run of the vaccine was held at some places in the state on Saturday.
“We initiated the campaign against COVID-19 in March 2020 under Prime Minister Narendra Modi and at the beginning of this year we could say firmly that the dry run of the vaccine will be held on January 5 across the state and the vaccine will be available near around Makar Sankranti,” he said at an event.
The exercise was held at Kalaburagi, Shivamogga, Mysuru, Belagavi and Bengaluru districts of Karnataka.
Tamil Nadu health secretary J. Radhakrishnan said overall, the processes worked successfully. The dry run was held at three centres each in the districts of Chennai, Tiruvallur, Nilgiris and Tirunelveli, and five in Coimbatore.
“An initial learning was that the room earmarked for vaccination should be more spacious,” the secretary told reporters, adding officials from the World Health Organisation (WHO) and United Nations Children’s Fund (UNICEF) also witnessed the drive.
Each district conducted the dry run at three sites or more which included a public health facility (District Hospital/Medical College), private health facility, and rural or urban outreach sites, the Union Health Ministry said.
“This dry run was aimed at testing the laid out mechanisms for COVID-19 vaccination roll-out in the health system and to assess operational feasibility of using Co-WIN application in the field environment for planning, implementation and reporting at the block, district and state level,” the statement.
The preparation to handle any adverse events following immunisation (AEFI) at all session sites and functionality of the call centres was also tested.
The dry run was supervised by the district collectors and ended with debriefing meetings at district and the state level to discuss the issues and challenges encountered during the day.
The health ministry said it was in constant touch with the states throughout the day to seek feedback on their experience.
It said the cold chain infrastructure is sufficient to ensure last mile delivery of COVID-19 vaccine in a temperature controlled environment across the country. Sufficient supplies of syringes and other logistics have also been ensured to begin COVID-19 vaccination drive.
Around 1,14,100 vaccinators have been trained on the process to be followed at the vaccination sites which includes beneficiary verification, vaccination, cold chain and logistics management, Bio-Medical Waste management, AEFI management and uploading the information on Co-WIN software, the statement said.
The Co-WIN software assist the programme managers across all levels through automated session allocation for pre-registered beneficiaries, their verification and a digital certificate will be generated upon successful completion of the vaccine schedule.
The number of fresh COVID-19 cases was recorded below 20,000 in India on Saturday, taking the country’s caseload to 1,03,05,788, while the number of people who have recuperated from the disease crossed 99 lakh, according to the health ministry.
The death toll due to the disease climbed to 1,49,218 in the country with 224 new fatalities, the ministry’s data updated at 8 AM showed.