Maharashtra requests Centre float common global tender for vaccines, cut down prices of black fungus medicines

MUMBAI: Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope on Thursday demanded that the Union government float a single global tender for coronavirus vaccines on behalf of all the states to avoid “unhealthy competition”.

He made the suggestion during a video conference between Union health minister Harsh Vardhan and his counterparts from six states which have been severely affected by the pandemic, Tope told reporters here.

“If every state starts floating global tender, vaccine manufacturers will benefit. The Union government should review the total vaccine requirement in the country and float a common tender,” he said.

“There should not be any unhealthy competition between states. It would not look good,” Tope added.

The Centre last month asked the states to buy vaccines directly from the market for the inoculation of people in the 18-44 years age group.

It will buy 50 percent production of Indian vaccine manufacturers and distribute it to states for inoculation of the above 45 age group, the Centre said.

Talking about the current status of vaccination in the state, Tope said, “Some 20-22 lakh vials are required to complete the second dose of people (in the above 45 category). By diverting the stock procured for 18-44 age group, we can only arrange up to 10 lakh vials.”

The Centre should provide remaining 10 lakh vials immediately, he said.

Tope said he also raised the issue of Remdesivir imports with Harsh Vardhan.

“Maharashtra government has given purchase order for three lakh vials of Remdesivir, but the import permission is still stuck with the Drug Controller General of India. The Centre should expedite the procedure,” he said.

Tope also said the Centre should bring down the prices of medicines used to treat black fungus, a serious but rare fungal infection now affecting coronavirus patients, and increase their quota for the state.

Symptoms of Mucormycosis, also known as black fungus, include headache, fever, pain under the eyes, nasal or sinus congestion and partial loss of vision.

Tope was speaking to reporters after attending a video conference meeting with Union health minister Dr Harsh Vardhan, who interacted with health ministers from six states with high COVID-19 caseload.

Tope said there are 1,500 cases of black fungus among COVID-19 patients in the state.

Patients with suppressed immune system, diabetic and those with high iron levels in the blood are vulnerable to contract the disease which has high mortality rate, he said.

Tope said, “Amphotericin-B, a key medicine used for treating the black fungus infection, is expensive. One injection costs around Rs 6,000 and requires a number of doses, from 20 to 60, in many cases. The Union government needs to bring down the MRP of this drug and other medicines to avoid their black-marketing. I have already written a letter to the National Pharmaceutical Pricing Authority regarding the same as states can not decide on pricing of these medicines,” he said.

The Centre has asked domestic pharma companies to increase the production of medicines required to treat Mucormycosis, the minister said.