MUMBAI: Five people died as a fire tore through a building in the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturing hub in India on Thursday, but the company insisted that the production of drugs to counter the coronavirus pandemic would continue.

Rescue workers discovered five bodies in the under-construction building after the blaze at the Serum Institute of India was brought under control, media reports said, with officials in the western city of Pune confirming the toll.

“Five people have died,” city’s mayor Murlidhar Mohol told reporters.

TV channels showed thick clouds of grey smoke billowing from the sprawling site in Pune, which is responsible for producing millions of doses of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine, developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

“It is not going to affect production of the Covid-19 vaccine,” a Serum Institute source said, adding that the blaze was at a new facility being built on the 100-acre campus.

A fire official earlier told reporters that “three or four people were inside” when the blaze broke out, but all had been rescued. “No one is trapped inside,” the official said.

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

Both police and the company said the cause of the blaze was not immediately known.

The complex where the fire broke out is a few minutes’ drive from the facility where coronavirus vaccines are produced, reports said.

Up to nine buildings are under construction at the complex to enhance Serum’s manufacturing capability, NDTV reported.

Serum Institute — founded in 1966 by Cyrus Poonawalla, Adar’s father — is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, producing 1.5 billion doses a year even before the coronavirus pandemic hit.

It makes vaccines against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella, which are exported to more than 170 countries.

The company has spent nearly a billion dollars in recent years for enlarging and improving the giant Pune campus.

In January, Indian regulators approved two vaccines — Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin, made by Indian 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.

Many other countries are also 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 2m doses to Bangladesh and a million to Nepal on Thursday.

Published in Dawn, January 22nd, 2021

Opinion

Are we failures?
27 Feb 2021

Are we failures?

Third World leaders emulated their erstwhile oppressors...
Rage of Caliban
27 Feb 2021

Rage of Caliban

Lawyers have shown that the fraternity abides by tribalistic values...
Combating pollution
26 Feb 2021

Combating pollution

Air quality is at hazardous levels, and a more robust policy response is needed.

Editorial

LoC ceasefire
Updated 27 Feb 2021

LoC ceasefire

THE Pakistan-India relationship is known for its complexity and bitterness, but there are times when surprises of a...
27 Feb 2021

Null and void

HAD people not lost their lives, the ham-fisted attempt at rigging the Daska by-election on Feb 19 could have been...
27 Feb 2021

Minister’s non-appearance

FEDERAL Water Resources Minister Faisal Vawda’s continued absence from the Election Commission’s hearing on the...
Terrorist’s escape
Updated 26 Feb 2021

Terrorist’s escape

It is not clear how many military personnel were involved in this incident and what the investigation into their actions revealed.
26 Feb 2021

Penalising filers

THE FBR has decided to penalise taxpayers filing their returns late. Apparently, these filers will be required to ...
26 Feb 2021

Corporal punishment

FOR a child born in our society, the cycle of violence begins early. The first taste of violence often comes at the...