Five persons dead in fire at Serum Institute in Pune, COVID vaccine production unaffected

Published : January 22, 2021 12:54 IST

Workers wearing protective gear walk after a fire broke out at India's Serum Institute in Pune on January 21. Photo: AFP

A smoke rises from a fire at Serum Institute of India in Pune, India, on January 21. Photo: REUTERS

Five persons were killed after a major fire broke out in a building at the Pune-based Serum Institute of India (SII), a key manufacturer of the COVID-19 vaccine. The fire, which engulfed three floors of a newly-constructed building on the SII campus located at Hadapsar in Pune district's economic zone, started at about 2 p.m. on Thursday. Although prompt action was initiated and the fire was put out, there was a reasonable amount of damage to the building besides the loss of lives, the institute said in a statement. Those who died were migrant construction workers.

The Pune Police have begun an investigation into the cause of the incident, which appears to have been a spark from a welding machine falling on inflammable substances. The Pune Police told mediapersons that they will be checking for foul play and breach of security at the SII campus.

Adar Poonawalla, SII's Chief Executive Officer, expressed shock over the incident and said there had been "a lot of damage". He said the building had just come up and was being used for the manufacture of BCG and Rotavirus vaccines, which were produced in large amounts. Therefore, a sizeable number of products had been destroyed.

Making a statement on Twitter, Adar Poonawalla said he wanted to reassure all governments and the common people that the mishap would not affect the production of Covishield, the vaccine for the novel coronavirus. He said multiple buildings on the large campus had been assigned for its production keeping in mind contingencies.

In India, the SII has the mandate to manufacture the COVID-19 vaccine created by Oxford University and pharma major AstraZeneca. As the world's largest vaccine manufacturer, it has the capacity to produce millions of doses of the vaccine, and is currently the largest producer of the polio, tetanus and diphtheria vaccines.