Five people died on Thursday when a fire tore through a building in the world’s biggest vaccine manufacturing hub in India, but the company insisted that production of drugs to counter the COVID-19 pandemic would continue.
Rescue workers discovered five bodies after the blaze at the Serum Institute of India was brought under control, reports said, with officials in Pune confirming the death toll.
A second, smaller blaze broke out in the same building later, reports said.
“Five people have died,” Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol said.
TV channels showed thick clouds of gray smoke billowing from the sprawling site, which is responsible for producing millions of doses of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and the University of Oxford.
“It is not going to affect production of the COVID-19 vaccine,” a Serum Institute source said, adding the blaze was at a new facility being built on the campus.
“We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed,” Serum Institute of India chief executive officer Adar Poonawalla wrote on Twitter, without offering further details.
Founder of the firm, Cyrus Poonawalla, Adar’s father, said in a statement that the families of each of the five victims — who were reported to be contract laborers — would be given 2.5 million rupees (US$34,215) in compensation.
Indian Prime Minister Narendra Modi said that he was “anguished by the loss of lives.”
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 the COVID-19 vaccines are produced, reports said.
As many as nine buildings are under construction at the complex to enhance its manufacturing capability, NDTV reported.
Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer by volume, producing 1.5 billion doses a year, even before the COVID-19 pandemic.
The firm makes vaccines against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, and measles, mumps and rubella, which are exported to more than 170 nations, and many of them are also relying on the firm to supply them with the COVID-19 vaccine.
India on Wednesday exported the first batch — to Bhutan and the Maldives — followed on Thursday by 2 million doses to Bangladesh and 1 million doses to Nepal.
The firm also plans to supply 200 million doses to COVAX, a WHO-backed effort to procure and distribute inoculations to less-developed nations.
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