5 killed in blaze at Indian producer of COVID-19 vaccine

At least five people have died in a fire that broke out at a building under construction at Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, but the company says it will not affect COVID-19 vaccine production

PUNE, India -- At least five people were killed in a fire that broke out Thursday at a building under construction at Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, officials said. The company said the blaze would not affect production of the COVID-19 vaccine.

Murlidhar Mohol, mayor of Pune city in southern Maharashtra state, said five bodies were found in the rubble after the flames were extinguished by firefighters.

Mahol said the victims were probably construction workers. He said the cause of the fire had not been determined and the extent of damage was not immediately clear.

Serum Institue of India's CEO, Adar Poonwala, said he was “deeply saddened” by the loss of life.

He said there would be no reduction in vaccine manufacturing because the company has other available facilities.

Images showed huge plumes of smoke billowing from the building and dozens of company workers in lab suits leaving the compound as firefighters worked to extinguish the blaze.

Serum Institute of India is the world’s largest maker of vaccines and has been contracted to manufacture a billion doses of the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine.

Poonawalla said in an interview with The Associated Press last month that it hopes to increase production capacity from 1.5 billion doses to 2.5 billion doses per year by the end of 2021. The new facility is part of the expansion.