June 18, 2024


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Five die in fire at Serum Institute building, vaccine work unaffected

Five people died when a fire broke out on Thursday inside the sprawling complex of the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s biggest vaccine maker, in Pune.

The dead were pulled out of a building under construction after first reports that were no casualties. “Four people were evacuated from the building but when it came under control, five bodies were found by our jawans,” said Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol, referring to rescue workers. Nine people were evacuated from the building.

Videos and pictures from showed black smoke billowing out of a grey building. “We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed,” said Adar Poonawalla, CEO of Serum Institute.

Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray told reporters it appeared an electrical fault caused the fire. “As per initial information, the fire did not erupt at the unit where the COVID-19 vaccine is being produced, but in the unit where the BCG vaccine is produced,” he said.

Manjari, the complex where the fire broke out, is a few minutes’ drive from the facility where the Covid vaccines are produced, sources said. It is believed to be part of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ). About eight or nine buildings are being constructed at the Manjari complex to deal with future pandemics and these are aimed at enhancing the SII’s manufacturing capability, reported NDTV.

Serum Institute has licensed the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and was also planning to start stockpiling up to 50 million doses a month of a vaccine candidate developed by Novavax Inc from around April.

Many low- and middle-income countries, from Bangladesh to Brazil, are depending on SII delivering the AstraZeneca vaccine, branded COVISHIELD by the Indian company.

“I would like to reassure all governments & 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,” Poonawalla said.

Maharashtra Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar said his government has ordered a probe of the fire.

(With inputs from Reuters and ANI)

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