Fire at Coronavirus vaccine manufacturing plant in India kills 5

Fire at a coronavirus vaccine manufacturing plant in India’s western city of Pune killed at least five people on Thursday.

The vaccine maker, Serum Institute of India (SII) said the incident would not affect production of Covishield, the AstraZeneca coronavirus shot it is manufacturing locally.

Videos and pictures showed black smoke billowing from a multi-storey building in SII’s massive headquarters complex, after the fire broke out around 2.45pm. The state government said it has launched an inquiry into the mishap, and a fire audit has been ordered to be conducted on Friday.

Maharashtra Health Minister Rajesh Tope said it appears the building in Manjri caught fire due to some ongoing welding work. “Insulation material, which is inflammable, was kept near the work site. So far, 5 deaths have been reported.”

The bodies of the five people killed were found in a charred state by firefighters after the blaze was brought under control. But the fire again broke out in the same building in the evening. Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol said four people had been evacuated.

“We have just received some distressing updates; upon further investigation we have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident. We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed,” SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said on Twitter.

SII has licensed the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and is producing around 50 million doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine a month at other facilities in the complex, with plans to increase that to as much as 100 million doses soon.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is already in use in India and has been shipped to countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan.

Covishield is one of the two vaccines being used in India to inoculate health and frontline workers. Many low- and middle-income countries, depend on SII delivering the AstraZeneca vaccine.

“I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” Poonawalla said.