Five dead in ‘massive’ blaze at site of world’s largest vaccine maker

Rituparna Chatterjee and Stuti Mishra
<p>Firefighters try to control a fire that broke out at India's Serum Institute in Pune </p> (AFP via Getty Images)

Firefighters try to control a fire that broke out at India's Serum Institute in Pune

(AFP via Getty Images)

A “massive” fire broke out on Thursday in an under-construction building at the site of the Serum Institute of India (SII), the world’s largest vaccine maker, killing at least five people.

The chief executive of SII said production of vaccines against Covid-19 would not be affected and the fire has now been brought under control.

Murlidhar Mohol, mayor of the city of Pune in western India where the site is located, said late on Thursday that five bodies had been recovered from the rubble after fire fighters had extinguished the blaze.

The fire broke out at 2.45pm local time at Manjari, a cluster of new buildings being built to enhance SII's manufacturing capability, a short drive away from the facility where Covid vaccines are being manufactured. It quickly spread across two floors of the building, according to news agency PTI. Several people were evacuated from the blaze earlier

“Anguished by the loss of lives due to an unfortunate fire at the Serum Institute of India. In this sad hour, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. I pray that those injured recover at the earliest,” said Prime Minister Narendra Modi in a condolence message on Twitter.

Mr Mohol said that it was likely the five killed were construction workers.

Adar Poonwala, the SII chief executive, said he was "deeply saddened" by the loss of life.

He said there would be no reduction in vaccine manufacturing because the company has other available facilities, and that stockpiles of around 50 million vaccine doses were also not affected.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray's office said he is in touch with the Pune Municipal Commissioner and is receiving updates about the situation at SII.

"CM Uddhav Balasaheb Thackeray is in touch with the Pune Municipal Commissioner and is taking complete on-ground updates. He has directed the state machinery to coordinate and ensure that the situation is under control," the chief minister’s office said in a tweet.

It is not yet clear how the fire started, but television visuals of the buildings showed thick smoke billowing out, even as news agency ANI reported that at least 10 fire engines had been rushed to the spot and one team of National Disaster Response Force (NDRF) moved to SII to help with evacuation and rescue.

SII has been contracted to produce a billion doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford, which is branded as “Covishield” in India. On Wednesday, India, which produces 60 per cent of the world’s vaccines, began supplying coronavirus jabs to neighbouring countries, less than a week after it started its own vaccination drive — said to be the largest in the world.

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Additional reporting by agencies

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