New Delhi Five people were killed by a fire that broke out at the Serum Institute of India, one of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturing plants, which currently produces millions of doses of the Oxford / AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine.
The fire broke out Thursday afternoon in a building still under construction on the 100-hectare site in the southwestern city of Pune. It was brought under control Thursday night, but at least two of the top floors of the five-story building were cleared.
“Today is an extremely sad day for all of us at the Serum Institute of India. Unfortunately, there was loss of human life in the fire that broke out,” said Adar Poonawalla, CEO and owner of the Serum Institute of India in a statement. He said the families of the victims would be offered a “compensation” of approx. $ 34,000 each, in addition to any mandate payout.
Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol confirmed five people were dead. Their bodies were retrieved from the charred floors of the building.
Earlier in the day, Poonawalla said the production of the coronavirus vaccine, produced in India under the Covishield brand, would not be affected by the fire.
Police and fire officials said the fire would be investigated. The cause is not immediately clear.
The Serum Institute began sending hundreds of thousands of doses of Covishield just last week. It says it should have 100 million doses produced in March.
India launched what has been described as the world’s largest mass vaccination drive on Saturday. The government plans to vaccinate 300 million people by July. Along with the Covishield shots, India will also use Covaxin, a domestic vaccine produced by Bharat Biotech.
The Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume and produces 1.5 billion doses annually of drugs to combat a range of diseases, including polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella. Its products are exported to more than 170 countries.
Several middle- and low-income countries are dependent on the Serum Institute delivering their coronavirus vaccine strains worldwide,. The project, which aims to ensure a fair distribution of coronavirus vaccines around the world, has secured an order for 200 million doses from the Serum facility.
Bangladesh, Nepal and several African and Central Asian countries are expecting their first shipments of Covishield in the coming weeks.
India exported first batches of the Oxford-formulated vaccine from Serum to Bhutan and the Maldives on Wednesday.
The UK mass vaccination plan is also heavily dependent on the drug Oxford / AstraZeneca, but this stock is produced in the UK.