Neither Covishield production nor its existing stocks suffered any damage in the fire that broke out at Serum Institute of India (SII)’s campus in Pune on Thursday, but the company lost property worth more than ₹1,000 crore, CEO Adar Poonawalla said on Friday (January 22). He assured that the supply of the COVID vaccine will not be hit.
The fire left five contractual welding and air-conditioning workers dead.
Poonawalla said the fire impacted the Rotavirus and BCG vaccines’ manufacturing and storage units.
“The damage caused by the fire is more than ₹1,000 crore. Although the fire will not affect Covishield supplies, it has damaged Rotavirus and BCG vaccine manufacturing and storage. It’s a big financial loss for us,” Poonawala said at a joint press conference with Maharashtra Chief Minister Uddhav Thackeray.
“The fire has had no impact on production of Covishield vaccine and no damage has occurred to the existing stock either. The supply of COVID-19 will not be affected due to the fire (at the SII facility). No actual vaccine was being made at that facility,” said Poonawalla.
Poonawala said the building that caught fire was new and was being developed for additional product building capacity. “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.
As per reports, the fire damaged three upper floors of the newly-constructed six-storey building on the Serum Institute’s campus in Manjari, Pune. The Covishield manufacturing unit is about a kilometre away from this building.
Chief Minister Thackeray, who visited the site on Friday, said an inquiry is being conducted which will throw light on whether the fire was an accident or an act of sabotage. “Let the investigation get completed. It is not correct to say anything now. After the probe gets over, we will know whether it was an accident or sabotage,” he said.
Poonawala clarified about his earlier statement on the day of the fire that there were no casualties. “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 the smoke cleared, 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.
Serum Institute has announced a compensation of ₹25 lakh to each of the families of the fire victims, in addition to the mandated amount as per norms.
The fire started around 1.30 pm and was doused by 4.30 pm. It took at least 10 fire brigade vehicles and 70 fire fighters to control the fire.
Serum manufacturers the most number of vaccines doses in the world. It makes vaccines for polio, diphtheria, tetanus, and pertussis, among others.
(With inputs from agencies)