Five people died in a fire Thursday in western India at the site of the Serum Institute, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, without the fire affecting its high-speed production of covid vaccines. 19, according to the company.
“Five people are dead,” Murlidhar Mohol, the mayor of the city of Pune, where this site is located, told reporters. “We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the families of the missing,” Adar Poonawalla, the CEO of the company, said on Twitter, without further details. Rescuers discovered five bodies in the building which burned down after bringing the fire under control, media also said.
Indian TV stations showed a huge cloud of gray smoke above IBS facilities in Pune, where millions of doses of the Covishield covid-19 vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, are produced . The manufacturer has assured, however, that its production of vaccines against covid-19 was not affected. “The vaccine production facility is not affected,” a source at the Serum Institute of India (SII) told AFP, adding that a fire had taken place in a new factory under construction.
Fire under control
The scene of the fire is a short drive from the unit where coronavirus vaccines are produced, while the IBS complex spans more than 40 hectares. Eight or nine buildings are under construction in the complex to improve production capacity, according to NDTV. A fire official told reporters earlier that “three or four people were inside” when the fire broke out but were all safe. “No one got stuck,” he said, adding that the blaze was under control. A police official said the source of the fire had not yet been determined.
Serum Institute of India, founded in 1966 by Cyrus Poonawalla, is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, which was already producing 1.5 billion doses per year before the covid-19 pandemic. The company manufactures vaccines against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella. These vaccines are exported to more than 170 countries. The company has spent nearly a billion dollars in recent years to expand and improve its massive Pune resort.
“The world’s pharmacy will take up the challenge of Covid”
In January, Indian regulatory authorities approved two vaccines: Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin, manufactured by Bharat Biotech. The huge country of 1.3 billion people began one of the most ambitious campaigns in the world on Saturday, aiming to immunize 300 million people by July.
But many other countries also rely on SII for vaccine supply. India shipped thousands of doses of its first batches of donated covid-19 vaccines to the Maldives and Bhutan on Wednesday. Bangladesh received two million doses Thursday also offered and it will then be the turn of Nepal, Burma and Seychelles. India is planning to donate some 20 million doses to its neighbors, Bloomberg reported last week. Sri Lanka, Afghanistan and Mauritius as well as Brazil and South Africa will be next on the very long list of countries awaiting the vaccine. “The world’s pharmacy will take up the challenge of covid,” Indian Minister of Foreign Affairs S. Jaishankar said on his Twitter account.
In addition, SII plans to supply 200 million doses within the framework of Covax, the collaborative device against the pandemic, co-directed by the World Health Organization intended to distribute the vaccine to poor countries. India is the second most affected country, after the United States, by covid-19, with more than 10 million reported cases, even though the death rate is one of the lowest in the world.