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Fire threatens world vax drive

Serum Institute chief Adar Poonawalla took to Twitter to assure that no lives were lost or no injuries reported.

MJ Blancaflor



Workers wearing protective gear walk after a fire broke out at India's Serum Institute in Pune. (AFP)

The Philippine government and its health authorities did not immediately express alarm but vowed to assess the extent of the fire that broke out on Thursday at the Serum Institute of India (SII) as the country has secured the supply of 30 million doses of Covid-19 vaccine from the drugmaker.

The site where the fire broke out is an under-construction building.

The mishap, initial reports said, would not affect the production of coronavirus vaccines of the world’s biggest vaccine maker by volume.

“It is not going to affect production of the Covid-19 vaccine,” a source at the Serum Institute told AFP, adding that the blaze was at a new plant under construction.

Serum Institute chief Adar Poonawalla took to Twitter to assure that no lives were lost or no injuries reported. Television channels showed thick clouds of grey smoke billowing from the site in Pune in western India.
“No info yet. Let’s await SII’s assessment,” presidential spokesperson Harry Roque told Daily Tribune in a text message.

The country’s Department of Health will also wait for the report of India’s Institute before commenting on the matter, said an official who refused to be named due to lack of authority to speak on the matter.

Vaccine czar Carlito Galvez Jr. signed a deal on 10 January to secure at least 30 million doses of Covovax from the SII, which are expected to be delivered to the country in the third quarter of 2021.

The Institute has partnered with the US-based Novovax Inc. for the development and commercialization of Covovax.

The Serum Institute is producing millions of doses of the Covishield coronavirus vaccine developed by AstraZeneca and Oxford University.

An official at the local fire station told AFP that six or seven firetrucks had reached the site.

“We have no other information… on the extent of the fire or whether anyone is trapped,” the official said.

In January, Indian regulators approved two vaccines — Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin, made by local firm Bharat Biotech. India began one of the world’s biggest vaccine rollouts on Saturday, aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by July with both Covishield and Covaxin.

Many other countries are relying on the Serum Institute to supply them with the vaccine. India exported its first batch on Wednesday — to Bhutan and the Maldives — followed by two million doses to Bangladesh and a million to Nepal.

Earlier in the day, Galvez said up to 40 million doses of Covid-19 vaccines from the World Health Organization (WHO)-led COVAX initiative will arrive in the Philippines for free, some of which will be delivered as early as next month.

“I am happy to announce that our COVAX Facility for the Philippines has been approved. It includes the possibility of ensuring that we will have 30 to 40 million doses for free for our countrymen,” Galvez said.

These vaccines, he said, are excluded from the 148 million doses the Philippines is hoping to secure through its negotiations with manufacturers.

It will arrive in the Philippines in tranches.

Vaccines from COVAX will include those made by Western companies Pfizer-BioNTech, Johnson & Johnson, AstraZeneca, as well as those developed by the Serum Institute of India, Galvez said.

COVAX is a globally-pooled vaccine procurement and distribution effort which aims to secure vaccines for 20 percent of the population in each participating country by the end of 2021, with funding covered for the 92 lower- and lower-middle income countries involved.