Smoke billows out of one of the buildings of Serum Institute of India on Thursday (Image credit: India Today)

Five die as Serum Institute’s BCG vaccine plant goes up in flames

Hours after the government claimed that India is in position to export vaccine for corona virus a massive fire broke out on Thursday afternoon in the newly-constructed building of Serum Institute in Pune killing five labourers. Two of them belonged to Uttar Pradesh, two were from Pune district and one from Bihar. The fire could be brought down by eight fire-tenders in three hours-time. A minor fire broke out again but it was soon doused.

Initially, the Serum authorities did not say anything about the casualties. However, it is after the fire was brought down that five charred bodies were recovered from the fifth floor of the building. 

Though the fire caused widespread destruction the authorities said that the plant producing Covishield, a vaccine for COVID-19 was situated about three kilometres from this building—so there would be no negative impact on its production. Serum Institute is spread in an area of over 100 acres.

The CEO of the Institute, Adar Poonawalla, announced a compensation of Rs 25 lakh each to all the victims of fire. The labourers who perished in the fire were working on contract.

Though there is no need to worry on the production front so far as the corona vaccine is concerned there is likelihood of production of other vaccine being affected by the mishap, which, according to the Mayor of Pune, was caused while welding work was going on as a portion of the building was still under-construction.  

Later in the day report came out that the gutted building used to manufacture BCG vaccine and the vaccine for Rota virus was to start production soon.

The media reports suggest that some inflammable material was kept near the place where the welding work was going on. If this is true then it appears to be the case of sheer negligence as to how the welding work continued to take place in the firm which claims to be the largest manufacturer of corona vaccine in India and which is on the lips of an overwhelming number of people ever since Prime Minister Narendra Modi visited it on November 28.

It was Adar Poonawalla, its CEO, who on Jan 3 raised doubts over the effectiveness of Bharat Biotech’s Covaxin.

Meanwhile, Maharashtra chief minister Uddhav Thackeray condoled the death of the five labourers in the tragedy. An inquiry has been ordered into the fire.

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