Fire At Serum Institute, Covishield Production Won’t Be Hit: Sources

Visuals showed plumes of smoke billowing from the building at the SII.

Pune/ Delhi:

A massive fire broke out today at vaccine-maker Serum Institute of India’s Pune facility, at a building that is under construction. It is unlikely to hit the production of Covishield, the coronavirus vaccine developed by the SII in partnership with the Oxford University and British-Swedish pharma firm AstraZeneca.

Massive efforts are on to put out the blaze and several fire engines are at the spot.

“We are trying to rescue one or two people, that’s our only priority now. We will assess the situation later on the damage on all other counts,” Serum CEO Adar Poonawalla told NDTV.

The Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine maker, is spread over 100 acres in Pune.

Manjari, the complex where the fire broke out, is a few minutes’ drive from the facility where the Covid vaccines are produced, sources said. It is believed to be part of a Special Economic Zone (SEZ).

About eight or nine buildings are being constructed at the Manjari complex to deal with future pandemics and these are aimed at enhancing the SII’s manufacturing capability.

Visuals showed thick smoke rising from the building. “There were four people inside the building. We have rescued three so far though smoke is hampering the work of bringing the fire under control,” a fire officer said.

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Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray’s office tweeted he is “in touch with the Pune Municipal Commissioner and is taking complete on-ground updates”. “He has directed the state machinery to coordinate and ensure that the situation is under control,” the statement read. A team of NDRF (National Disaster Response Force) is also at the site.

It’s not yet clear how the fire started. Some speculated it could be linked to the construction activities at the site.

“Manjari facility is being built for any pandemic in future so vaccines can be developed in a short span of time. Packaging will also happen at the facility,” Umesh Shirsavkar, Deputy Director, SII, told NDTV earlier this month.

In November, Prime Minister Narendra Modi had visited the Serum Institute to review the development of coronavirus vaccine ahead of the rollout.

India launched the world’s largest coronavirus vaccine rollout last week after two vaccines – Covishield and Hyderabad-based Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin – were cleared by the drug controller DCGI.

Serum Institute makes vaccines against polio, diphtheria, tetanus, hepatitis B, measles, mumps and rubella, which are exported to more than 170 countries. The company has spent nearly a billion dollars in recent years enlarging and improving the giant Pune campus.

In January, Indian regulators approved two vaccines — Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin, made by Bharat Biotech.

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