Fire at world’s biggest vaccine maker in India kills 5

MUMBAI: Five people died as a fire tore through a building in the world’s biggest vaccine production hub in western India on Thursday (Jan 21), officials said.

“Five people have died,” Pune city mayor Murlidhar Mohol told reporters following the fire at the Serum Institute of India.

Rescue workers discovered five bodies at the building that was under construction after the blaze was brought under control, media reports said, but the company insisted its production of drugs to counter the coronavirus pandemic was not affected.

“We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed,” Adar Poonawalla, the firm’s CEO, tweeted, without offering further details.

serum institute of india fire
Smoke rises after a fire broke out at India’s Serum Institute in Pune on Jan 21, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

serum institute of india fire (1)
Firefighters try to control a fire that broke out at India’s Serum Institute in Pune on Jan 21, 2021. (Photo: AFP)

Television channels showed thick clouds of grey smoke billowing from the site in Pune in western India.

The Serum Institute is producing millions of doses of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

In January, Indian regulators approved two vaccines – Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin, made by local firm Bharat Biotech.

India began one of the world’s biggest vaccine rollouts on Saturday, aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by July with both Covishield and Covaxin.

READ: India’s COVID-19 vaccination drive hits bump due to app glitch

Many other countries are relying on the Serum Institute to supply them with the vaccine.

India exported its first batch on Wednesday – to Bhutan and the Maldives – followed by two million doses to Bangladesh and a million to Nepal.

READ: India hails ‘life saving’ COVID-19 vaccine rollout

The country plans to offer 20 million doses to its South Asian neighbours, with Latin America, Africa and Central Asia next in line.

Serum Institute, the world’s biggest vaccine maker by volume, also plans to supply 200 million doses to Covax, a World Health Organization-backed effort to procure and distribute inoculations to poor countries.

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