5 dead after fire razes India vaccine maker plant

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Five people have died after a fire tore through a building in the world’s biggest vaccine production hub in western India on Thursday.

The fire broke out at a plant being built for the Serum Institute of India (SII) but it will not affect the production of coronavirus vaccines, a source close to the firm said.

Television channels showed a huge cloud of grey smoke above the site in Pune in the western Indian state of Maharashtra.

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“Five people have died,” Pune city mayor Murlidhar Mohol told reporters.

Local media reported that rescue workers discovered five bodies in the under-construction building after the blaze was brought under control.

“We are deeply saddened and offer our deepest condolences to the family members of the departed,” Adar Poonawalla, the firm’s CEO, tweeted.

The SII is manufacturing millions of doses of a vaccine developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca for India and many other low- and middle-income countries.

The company is also getting ready to produce a vaccine being developed by the United States company, Novavax Inc.

Pune’s fire office told Reuters news agency five fire trucks had been sent to the site.

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There was no immediate word on the cause of the fire. Earlier this month, Indian regulators approved two coronavirus vaccines – Covishield, produced by the SII, and Covaxin, made by local firm Bharat Biotech.

India began one of the world’s biggest vaccine roll-outs on Saturday, aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by July with both Covishield and Covaxin.

Many other countries are relying on the SII to supply them with the vaccine.

India began exporting the vaccines on Wednesday, with the first batch sent to Bhutan and the Maldives, followed by two million doses to Bangladesh and one million to Nepal.

The country plans to offer 20 million doses to its South Asian neighbours, with Latin America, Africa and Central Asia next in line.

The SII also plans to supply 200 million doses to Covax, a World Health Organization-backed effort to procure and distribute inoculations to poor countries.