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Fire Rips Through COVID-19 Vaccine Plant in India

Employees leave as smoke rises from a fire at Serum Institute of India, the world's largest vaccine maker that is manufacturing the AstraZeneca/Oxford University vaccine for the coronavirus, in Pune, Jan. 21, 2021.

Fire erupted Thursday in a building under construction in India that is owned by the world’s largest vaccine maker, but the company said it would not affect production of a COVID-19 vaccine.

The fire broke out at a Serum Institute of India (SII) building in the western city of Pune.

Fire official Prashant Ranpise said the cause of the fire was not immediately clear, but it was contained to a facility under construction to boost production of the AstraZeneca coronavirus vaccine.

SII CEO Adar Poonawalla sought to reassure the global community the fire did not affect the company’s production of the vaccine, labeled COVISHIELD in India, which many low- and middle-income countries are depending on to combat the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I would like to reassure all governments & the public that there would be no loss of COVISHIELD production due to multiple production buildings that I had kept in reserve to deal with such contingencies,” Poonawalla tweeted.

Ranpise said three people were rescued from the fire and no one was injured.

SII has been contracted to produce a billion does of the vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

Poonawalla told the Associated Press in December that his family-owned company hopes to increase production capacity from 1.5 billion doses to 2.5 billion doses annually by the end of this year. He said the new facility is part of the plan.

Wealthy countries already have bought 75% of the 12 billion coronavirus vaccine doses expected to be produced this year. Consequently, SII is likely to produce most of the vaccines that will be used by developing countries.