5 dead in fire at India’s main vaccine factory, Covishield production not hit

New Delhi, Jan 21 (efe-epa).- At least five people were killed after a massive fire broke out on Thursday at the Serum Institute of India, producing the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine in the country, officials said.

SII, the world’s biggest vaccine manufacture in the Pune city of the western state of Maharashtra, said the production of Covishield it is making in partnership with Oxford University and the British-Swedish pharma was not hit.

The blaze at an under-construction building of the SII facility claimed five lives before firefighters brought the flames under control.

“We have recovered five bodies. Nine were rescued. The cause of the fire is not known as yet,” Pune Chief Fire Officer Prashant Ranpise told EFE over the phone.

He said the rescue operation was still on even as the fire was under control after about half a dozen firefighters were pressed into service.

Pictures and video purportedly from the SII facility showed columns of smoke billowing out from the building.

Adar Poonawalla, SII chief executive, said on Twitter that he had “learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident.”

He said he “deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed.”

“I would like to reassure all governments (and) 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 at (the Serum Institute),” tweeted Poonawalla, who own SII.

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray confirmed that the fire had not broken out in the section developing the coronavirus vaccine.

“The fire was in the department that develops the BCG vaccine. Now, the situation is under control,” Thackeray told reporters in regional capital Mumbai.

“Prima facie it seems that the fire was caused by an electric fault.”

SII is developing the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is currently given for emergency use in India to fight the Covid-19 epidemic.

India is supplying the vaccine to neighboring countries like Bangladesh, Nepal, Bhutan, Maldives, Myanmar Sri Lanka, Afghanistan, and Mauritius.

The pharma is developing some 60 million doses of Covishield a month and plans to spike its production to 100 million doses by March.

It has also signed an agreement to supply Covax, which is backed by the World Health Organization.

Last week it distributed some 5.6 million doses to at least twelve locations in the country as a preliminary step to begin the national vaccination campaign in India – the second worst-affected country by the virus.

Fires, landslides, and other similar accidents are common in India, often due to poor infrastructure and maintenance, fueled by corruption and illegal practices.

According to official data, there were more than 13,000 fires in India in 2018 in government buildings, schools, residences, and other places. Nearly 12,750 people died in the incidents. EFE-EPA


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