New Delhi, 21 January 2021 (dpa/MIA) – Five people were killed on Thursday in a major fire that broke out on the premises of vaccine manufacturer Serum Institute of India (SII), in the western Indian city of Pune.
The fire has not affected the facility manufacturing the Covishield Covid-19 vaccine that has been given emergency authorization by India‘s drugs regulator, said SII chief executive Adar Poonawalla.
Serum Institute is one of the world’s largest vaccine makers, and its low-priced Covid-19 vaccines are expected to play a major role in fighting the coronavirus pandemic in developing countries.
The fire on the SII campus started in the afternoon, Pune’s chief fire officer Prashant Ranpise said, adding that 15 fire engines and a team from the National Disaster Response Force were sent to the site and finally brought it under control.
Five workers lost their lives in the fire, Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol said. Six people have been rescued from the building.
“We have just received some distressing updates … there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident,” Poonawalla confirmed on Twitter.
“I would like to reassure all governments [and] the public that there would be no loss of #COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” he tweeted.
SII plans to manufacture 1 billion doses this year of the vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca under the Indian name Covishield. Priced at 200 rupees (about 2.74 dollars) in India, it costs a fraction of the Pfizer/BioNTech and Modena vaccines.
India started sending more than 2 million doses of the Covishield vaccine free of cost to neighbouring countries Bhutan, Bangladesh and the Maldives on Wednesday and plans to help others in the region.
The under-construction building where the fire broke out is about a kilometre from the plant manufacturing Covishield, broadcaster NDTV reported, adding that the cause of the fire is not yet known, but there were indications it could have been caused by a short-circuit.
SII has been carrying out a major expansion of its facilities, and at a rapid pace, not only for manufacturing Covid-19 vaccines, but a host of others for diseases including polio and diphtheria that it exports across the world.