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Serum Institute of India fire will not hurt vaccine efforts; lives lost

Some hospitals in India lack even the most basic fire safety requirements - like a fire extinguisher. Karnatakan hospitals are no exception. Image credit: gioiak2 / 123rf. Used to illustrate Serum Institute of India fire.
Image credit: gioiak2 / 123rf

The Serum Institute of India fire is under control. The blaze is not expected to affect COVID-19 vaccine production.

The fire broke out at a building under construction at the complex of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer in Pune, Maharashtra at around 2.45 p.m.. Ten fire tenders responded along with a team from National Disaster Response Force (NDRF). The cause of the fire is unknown at the time of writing. 

The fire was brought under control at approximately 4.15 p.m.. Nine people trapped have been rescued.

The Serum Institute of India is widely expected to take centre-stage in global efforts to vaccinate against the novel coronavirus that causes COVID-19. The Institute is manufacturing the vaccine Covishield, developed by the University of Oxford and drugmaker AstraZeneca. The Covishield manufacturing unit was unaffected by the fire, officials said, and so vaccine production is not expected to take a hit.

Adar Poonawalla, chief executive officer of the Institute, tweeted “thank you everyone for your concern and prayers.” While initially no loss of life was reported, Poonawalla has since tweeted that “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.” The Maharashtra government has called for Pune authorities to investigate the cause of the blaze.

Two vaccines have received emergency use authorisation from the Indian government – one being Covishield and the other being the candidate produced by Indian firm Bharat Biotech. India is exporting vaccines to neighbouring countries in south Asia, with plans to offer twenty million doses. It is expected to subsequently begin exports to Latin American, African, and central Asian nations. “India is deeply honoured to be a long-trusted partner in meeting the healthcare needs of the global community,” tweeted Prime Minister Narendra Modi.

India commenced its own vaccination campaign on Saturday, January 16th. The ambitious programme of inoculations has been described by Modi as the world’s largest. 

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