A fire at a production facility of the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer has killed five people in the Western region of India.
The fire started at a production facility of The Serum Institute, who is responsible for the development of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for a number of Asian countries to tackle the COVID-19 virus.
The Serum Institute is actually the world’s largest manufacturer of vaccines, and has been contracted to produce more than a billion doses of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine for India and other developing nations in Asia.
The cause of the fire at the Pune city manufacturing plant is at this point in time unknown, but the Mayor, Murlidhar Mohol has said it was most likely connected to construction workers.
Mohol added that authorities had pulled five bodies from the construction site, but the death toll could rise.
Despite the fire and subsequent deaths, the Institute says that there will not be disruptions to the production and roll-out of the Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccine. There are currently a reported 50 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccine in the Institute’s stockpile that were not affected by the fire.
The Institute added that the fire took place at a new facility that was in the process of being constructed. The building was designed to assist with the increased production of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure the Institute is prepared for future pandemics.
The Serum Institute’s CEO, Adar Poonawalla has issued a statement saying 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,” he added.
Poonawalla has said in recent interviews that he hopes to increase the rate of production at their facilities from 1.5 billion doses per year to 2.5 billion by the end of the year. The construction site that caught fire was a key pillar of this plan, however, Poonawalla remains confident that they can meet their goal.
“Due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” the Institute remains on-track for their goal, according to the CEO.
India has announced its intention to vaccinate at least 300 million citizens by August, 2021. The country has the world’s second-largest number of COVID-19 infections, behind America, with 10 million infections and around 153,000 deaths.
Early reports indicate that the fire was caused by labourers installing insulation on the building. Maharashtra Health Minister, Rajesh Tope has told The Hindu that “the fire was caused when a spark during welding fell on inflammable [sic] material, which further aggravated the fire.”
“At least fire tenders and three water tankers were rushed to the spot. It took around two-three hours to douse the fire. After the fire was finally extinguished, five bodies were found inside the building by authorities,” he said.