Fire at world's biggest vaccine maker in India kills five

Days after one of the world's biggest vaccine launches began, a fire broke out at the Serum Institute factory in Pune

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At least five people are dead after a fire broke out on Thursday at India's Serum Institute, the world's largest maker of vaccines.

Television channels showed thick clouds of grey smoke billowing from the site in Pune in western India.

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

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

An official at the local fire station told AFP that six or seven fire engines 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 copany Bharat Biotech.

India began one of the world's biggest vaccine drives on Saturday, aiming to vaccinate 300 million people by July using 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.

The country plans to offer 20 million doses to its South Asian neighbours, with Latin America, Africa and Central Asia next in line.

Serum Institute, the world's biggest vaccine maker by volume, also plans to supply 200 million doses to Covax, a World Health Organisation-backed effort to procure and distribute inoculations to poor countries.