A massive fire broke out Thursday at Serum Institute of India (SII), the company in charge of producing the AstraZeneca vaccine against COVID-19.
The blaze, which hit an under-construction building that SII representatives told the press was not active in vaccine production, cost the life of five workers. Eight firefighters rushed to the site, and the cause remains unknown.
The Serum Institute of India is the largest hub for vaccine production worldwide. The institute, located in the western Indian state of Maharashtra, is manufacturing millions of doses of the vaccines developed by Oxford University and AstraZeneca.
In January, Indian regulators approved two vaccines: Covishield, produced by the Serum Institute, and Covaxin, made by local firm Bharat Biotech.
The CEO of Serum Institute tweeted that firefighters brought the blaze under control and it did not affect the current stockpile of 50 million vaccine doses. However, the fire prompted fears that it could halt vaccine production and delay vaccination campaigns in a number of countries.
Many low and middle-income countries, including Morocco, are relying on India to supply vaccines and begin COVID-19 vaccinations.
India exported its first batch to Bhutan and the Maldives, followed by two million doses to Bangladesh and a million to Nepal.
Morocco’s Ministry of Health authorized the use of the AstraZeneca vaccine in January.
In December Morocco purchased a total of 65 million doses of COVID-19 vaccines.
The country’s vaccination campaign will use both AstraZeneca and Sinopharm vaccines. Morocco’s health authorities aim to vaccinate 25 million people.
In November, Moroccan authorities started marketing a national vaccination campaign to address citizens’ concerns.
Earlier this week, however, Head of Government Saad Eddine El Othmani declared that health authorities in the country are still uncertain about when they will receive the COVID-19 vaccine doses the government has ordered.
El Othmani blamed the delay on the competitiveness of the global market for COVID-19 vaccines, saying that “rich countries” are paying up to nine times the asking price of the vaccines to get the available doses.
By securing the bulk of COVID-19 vaccinations, high-income countries threaten the global fight against the pandemic, according to a recent study by the Duke Global Health Innovation Center. The research concludes that most people in low-income countries will be waiting until 2024 for COVID-19 vaccinations if high-income countries keep on increasing their stock.
Approximately 70 poor countries will manage to vaccinate only one in 10 people against COVID-19 in 2021, according to the report.
India’s Serum Institute remains the main supplier for low-income countries.