The Centre on Saturday morning began a dry run in all states to assess the readiness for the Covid-19 vaccination roll-out programme, with health authorities checking everything – from their technology platforms to the storage infrastructure – that will be required to inoculate millions.

The massive exercise came a day after a government-appointed panel of experts held a meeting to review the applications of vaccine candidates. Reports suggested that the Subject Expert Committee approved Serum Institute of India’s Covishield for emergency use in the country, though there had been no official confirmation. The Pune-based firm is the local maker of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and pharmaceuticals company AstraZeneca.

The drug regulator is also considering similar approvals for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine and another developed by Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech.

What will happen during the dry run?

Saturday’s exercise includes necessary data entry into Co-WIN, an online platform for monitoring vaccine delivery, along with testing of cold storage and transportation arrangements for Covid-19 vaccine and management of crowds at session sites with proper physical distancing, the health ministry had said.

An important focus of the dry run will be on management of any possible adverse events following immunisation.

During the exercise, 25 beneficiaries – all health care workers – present at each site will receive dummy vaccines, according to NDTV. This is meant to test the mechanism in place for the actual exercise, as to how people will be registered, how will the vaccines be given, and how they will be monitored for adverse events, if any. It will also provide a hands-on experience to the vaccination teams at various levels.

Countrywide exercise

The government already successfully conducted a two-day pilot Covid-19 vaccination drive in four states – Andhra Pradesh, Gujarat, Punjab and Assam – on December 28 and December 29. But Saturday’s dry run was more ambitious in scope as it covered all state capitals, including districts that are situated in difficult terrains, or have poor logistical support. Maharashtra and Kerala are likely to schedule the dry run in major cities other than their capitals.

Across India, the dry run will be conducted in 116 districts across 259 sites. Some 96,000 vaccinators have been trained for this, the health ministry had said. Of these, 2,360 participants have been trained in the National Training of Trainers, and over 57,000 have received district-level training in 719 districts.

Each state will hold the exercise in the state capital in at least three different session sites – a district hospital, community health centre or primary health care centre, urban site, private health facility and rural outreach.

Union health minister Harsh Vardhan will monitor the dry run in Delhi, according to NDTV. The sites identified for the exercise in the Capital are Guru Teg Bahadur Hospital in Shahdara, urban primary health centre in Daryaganj and Venkateshwar Hospital in Dwarka.

In Lucknow, the dry run will be held at six places. Chhattisgarh will hold the dry run in seven districts. The day-long drive will be carried out in four districts in Gujarat. Punjab will conduct the dry run in Patiala, and Haryana will carry out the exercise in Panchkula. In Kerala, the dry run will be held in four districts – Thiruvananthapuram, Idukki, Wayanad and Palakkad.

Vardhan held a meeting on Friday to review preparedness ahead of the countrywide dry run. The health ministry had said that the officials informed Vardhan about the improvements that have been incorporated for the smooth functioning of the exercise.

Vaccination will be free in first phase, says health minister

As the dry-run went underway, Vardhan announced the first phase of Covid-19 vaccination will be free of cost for priority beneficiaries. This includes one crore health care workers and two crore frontlines workers. “Details of how further 27 crore priority beneficiaries are to be vaccinated until July are being finalized,” the health minister said.

Vardhan added that the government’s first priority was to ensure the safety and efficacy of the vaccine. He also urged citizens to not fall prey to rumours about potential adverse reactions after getting inoculated. “Different kinds of rumours were spread during polio immunisation but people took the vaccine and India is now polio-free,” he told ANI.