NEW DELHI (INDIA) – A massive fire at the Serum Institute of India (SII) killed five people, a government official told reporters. SII which is the world’s biggest vaccine maker said the mishap would not affect production of the AstraZeneca COVID vaccine.
“We have learnt that there has unfortunately been some loss of life at the incident,” SII Chief Executive Adar Poonawalla said on Twitter. “We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed.”
The Maharashtra state government said the fire could have been caused by an electrical fault during construction work. Pune Mayor Murlidhar Mohol informed four people had been evacuated but five others had died.
SII 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.
Many countries, from Bangladesh to Brazil, are depending on SII to deliver the AstraZeneca vaccine, branded COVISHIELD by the Indian company.
SII has licensed the shot developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca, and was also planning to start stockpiling up to 50 million doses a month of a vaccine candidate developed by Novavax Inc from around April.
“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.
Poonawalla, whose family owns SII, was quoted as saying by broadcaster that the fire would mean delays in launching new products and revenue losses of more than 10 billion rupees ($137 million). Equipment worth millions of dollars has been destroyed, he said.
India has already started using AstraZeneca vaccine. It has also been shipped to countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, the Maldives and Bhutan.