'Multiple Buildings In Reserve': Adar Poonawalla's Reassurance on Covishield After Serum Institute Fire

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A major fire broke out at a facility of the Serum Institute of India, the Pune-based manufacturer of vaccines, on Thursday afternoon after 2 pm but it was brought under control in around two hours. Sources said the there was no impact on the Covishield vaccine making process as the fire was in a facility away from the place where the anti-coronavirus vaccines are made.

The Maharashtra government announced that an inquiry has been launched into the incident, even as the company’s CEO Adar Poonawalla assured that the fire will not result in any loss of Covishield production. He said multiple production buildings had been kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies.

Photos and videos from the scene showed dark, thick clouds of smoke rising from the building, but there were no casualties or injuries because of the fire. Three people were evacuated from the building.

The fire was reported at the institute's biotechnology park, inaugurated by Union Health Minister Harsh Vardhan last year. A total of 15 fire engines, and ambulances were rushed to the spot and the blaze was brought under control.

Amid concerns over impact on the production of COVID-19 vaccine Covishield, the government has said there has not been much damage to the area where vaccines are manufactured. Further, the facility, where fire has been reported, is used for manufacturing Rotavirus and BCG vaccines and not coronavirus shots.

Responding to the incident, CEO Adar Poonawalla said, "Thank you everyone for your concern and prayers. So far the most important thing is that there have been no lives lost or major injuries due to fire, despite a few floors being destroyed."

The exact cause of the blaze is unknown and the authorities have assured of investigating all aspects of the mishap. According to preliminary information, fire began on the second floor inside one of the buildings. Construction work was going on in the area, where the fire broke out, and preparation for production of BCG vaccine was underway.

According to the Pune Municipal Corporation CFO, "The calls were received around 2.30 pm, the time when the fire was reported. As of now, we do not have details about the nature of fire, extent of the damages caused. Our priority will be to bring the fire under control and avert any damages or casualties."

Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray was in touch with the Pune Municipal Commissioner over the matter and directed the state machinery to coordinate and ensure that the situation is under control. Meanwhile, Deputy Chief Minister Ajit Pawar, who was in Pune coincidentally, also took stock of the situation.

With inputs from Herman Agnelo Gomes and Vinaya Deshpande