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A fire at the India Serum Institute killed 5 people but vaccine production was not affected

Staff evacuated as smoke rises from a fire at the SII building in Pune. (AP photo)

NEW DELHI (Reuters) – A massive fire occurred at the Indian Serum Institute (SII) Thursday, killing five people, but the world’s largest vaccine maker said it would not affect production of the AstraZeneca virus vaccine, a government official told reporters.

Videos and photos of Reuters partner ANI showed black smoke billowing from a multi-storey building at SII’s mega headquarters complex in Pune, Maharashtra.

“We learned that unfortunately there were some casualties in the accident,” SII CEO Adar Bunawala said on Twitter.

“We are deeply saddened and extend our deep condolences to the family members of the deceased,” he added.

Mayor Boni Morledhar Mohul said four people had been evacuated but five others had died.

The state government of Maharashtra said the fire may have been caused by an electrical failure during construction work.

SII licensed the shot developed by the University of Oxford and AstraZeneca, and was also planning to start stockpiling up to 50 million doses per month of a candidate vaccine developed by Novavax Inc, starting around April.

Many low- and middle-income countries, from Bangladesh to Brazil, rely on SII to provide the AstraZeneca vaccine, which is labeled Covishield by the Indian company.

“I would like to reassure all governments and the public that there will be no loss in Coffeeshield production due to the multiple production buildings I have kept in reserve to deal with such emergencies,” Bunawala said.

CNBC-TV18 quoted Poonawala, whose family owns SII, as saying that the fire would mean a delay in launching new products and revenue losses of over 10 billion rupees.

He said millions of dollars’ worth of equipment has been damaged.

SII produces around 50 million doses of AstraZeneca vaccine per month at other facilities in the complex, with plans to increase that to up to 100 million doses soon.

AstraZeneca vaccine is already in use in India and has been shipped to countries such as Bangladesh, Nepal, Maldives and Bhutan.

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