A day after a major fire at the premises of Serum Institute of India (SII) killed five people, CEO Adar Poonawalla said the blaze had caused damage worth more than Rs 1,000 crore, affecting the Rotavirus and BCG vaccine manufacturing and storage unit. Poonawalla, however, reiterated that the fire did not hit the supply of Covidshiled — one of India’s Covid-19 vaccines.
“Damage caused by the fire is more than Rs 1000 crore. Although the fire will not affect Covishield supplies, it has damaged the Rotavirus and BCG vaccine manufacturing and storage. It’s a big financial loss for us,” Poonawala said at a press conference.
According to Poonawala, the building that caught fire Thursday was a new structure, where additional product building capacity was being developed. “It did not have any stock or production. It is a brand new facility. Installation of equipment was underway there, which is what perhaps led to the incident. What we have lost is future production,” he said.
The fire had fire engulfed three upper floors of a newly-constructed six-storey building inside one of the campuses of Serum Institute of India, which is a key player in the global supplies of vaccines against the novel coronavirus. All five people who died in the fire were contractual welding and air-conditioning workers.
Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray along with State Tourism Minister Aaditya Thackeray, Labour and Excise Minister Dilip Walse Patil, Pune MP Girish Bapat, and other senior officials visited the institute today.
“COVID-19 is still wreaking havoc around the globe. In such a situation, Serum is a ray of hope. When the news of the fire came, everyone was horrified,” CM Thackeray said.
Poonawala, who initially had tweeted saying no lives were lost in the fire, also spoke about the confusion over the deaths. “There was initial confusion because we did not know about the workers of the contractors. When we got an initial report that there has been no loss of life, we were relieved and hence I sent out a tweet. But later, after clearing of smoke, the bodies were discovered. We did not have a complete list of the third-party workers and did not know how many were working at the site,” he said.
The company had announced a compensation of Rs 25 lakh to each of the families of the fire victims, in addition to the mandated amount as per the norm.
The fire began between 1.45 pm and 2.15 pm, according to police and Fire Brigade officials, and was brought under control by 4.30 pm. At least ten fire tenders, four additional water tankers, and other equipment had to be deployed. More than 70 fire personnel were involved in the operation.
The Serum Institute is the world’s largest vaccine manufacturer in terms of the number of doses produced and sold globally (more than 1.5 billion doses). The institute manufactures vaccine doses for polio, diphtheria, tetanus and pertussis, among others.