Thursday’s fire broke out in a building under construction at the Serum Institute of India, the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer, which could affect its future expansion in the production of a COVID-19 vaccine.
The fire service in Pune, southern Maharashtra state, said firefighters were extinguishing the flames. It was not immediately clear what caused the fire and the extent of the damage.
“We rescued three people, and there were no injuries,” said fire chief Prashant Ranbis who was overseeing the rescue operations.
The company said the fire was limited to a new facility it is building to increase production of COVID-19 vaccines and ensure it is better prepared for future epidemics.
It said the fire did not affect existing facilities that manufacture COVID-19 vaccines, or a stockpile of about 50 million doses.
“The most important thing so far is that there is no loss of life or serious injury due to the fire, even though a few floors were destroyed,” said Adar Poonawala, the company’s chief executive.
Pictures showed huge plumes of smoke rising from the building as firefighters worked to extinguish the fire. Dozens of company workers left the compound in laboratory suits.
India’s Serum Institute is the world’s largest vaccine maker and has been contracted to manufacture 1 billion doses of AstraZeneca / University of Oxford.
Poonawala said in an interview with The Associated Press last month that it hoped to increase production capacity from 1.5 billion doses to 2.5 billion doses annually by the end of 2021. The new facility is key to expansion.
Of the more than 12 billion doses of coronavirus vaccine expected to be produced this year, rich countries have already bought about 9 billion, and many have options to buy more. As a result, the serum institute will likely manufacture most of the vaccines that developing countries will use.