Wednesday, February 24, 2021

Fire kills 5 at world’s largest vaccine producer

Many low and middle-income countries are depending on the Serum Institute for production of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

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Five people have been killed in a fire at the world’s largest vaccine producer in western India, the BBC is reporting.

The blaze started on Thursday afternoon in a building which was still under construction at the Serum Institute of India (SII). The cause of the fire has not yet been identified.

Video and pictures from Reuters partner ANI showed thick plumes of black smoke billowing from a multi-storey building in SII’s massive headquarters complex in the city of Pune in Maharashtra state.

The city’s mayor confirmed that five people had died at the facility producing the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine, known locally as Covishield.

The Serum Institute’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla, tweeted: “We have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened.”

Poonawalla, whose family owns SII, was quoted by broadcaster CNBC-TV18 as saying that the fire would mean delays in launching new products as equipment worth millions of dollars has been damaged.

“However, I would like to reassure all governments and the public that there would be no loss of Covishield production due to multiple production buildings kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” he said.

Covishield is one of two vaccines approved by the Indian government for use in its inoculation programme, which began last week and is the largest in the world, aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by early August.

Many other low and middle-income countries are also depending on the Serum Institute for production of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine.

The vaccine is already being shipped to countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan.

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