Fire at COVID-19 vaccine facility in India kills five

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Jan. 21 (UPI) — A fire Thursday at an under-construction plant of a COVID-19 vaccine maker in India killed five people.

Five people were killed from the fire, which broke out on the top floor and partially damaged another floor of the five-story under construction building for the Serum Institute of India in Pune, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, the Hindustan Times reported.

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The Serum Institute of India had just released the first shipments of the local version of Oxford-AstraZeneca COVID-19 vaccine known as COVISHIELD, across India early last week, according to the pharmaceutical company’s website.

“I would like to reassure all governments and the public that there would be no loss of #COVIDSHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” Serum Institute of India CEO Adar Poonawalla tweeted in wake of the fire. “Thank you very much @PuneCityPolice & Fire Department.”

“We have just received some distressing updates,” Poonawalla added in another tweet. “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.”

At least four people were rescued from the premises in a rescue operation, officials said.

Firefighters brought the blaze under control in around three hours. It is believed to have been started due to an electrical fault, NDTV reported.

The Serum Institute of India has announced there will be compensation to families of the five people who died in the fire, who were contractual laborers.

“Anguished by the loss of lives due to an unfortunate fire at the @SerumInstIndia,” India’s Prime Minister Narendra Modi tweeted. “In this sad hour, my thoughts are with the families of those who lost their lives. I pray that those injured recover at the earliest.”

The Manjari complex where the fire broke out is a few minutes drive away from the facility where COVID-19 vaccines are produced, according to the NDTV report.

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