Cyber-attacks, fire and now a suspicious package: the strange case of Covid-19 vaccine-linked companies

PT Jyothi Datta Mumbai | Updated on January 28, 2021 Published on January 28, 2021

Police forensic officers work outside the Wockhardt pharmaceutical plant in Wrexham, Britain   -  REUTERS

Drugmaker Wockhardt becomes the latest one to feel the heat after a “suspicious package” was received at its facility

The string of odd occurrences involving companies linked to the Covid-19 vaccine continues, with drugmaker Wockhardt becoming the latest one to feel the heat. A “suspicious package” was received at its Wrexham facility, leading to the plant being partially evacuated and operations suspended, according to reports from the region.

A BBC report said, a bomb disposal unit had been sent to the factory while another media report added there was a “controlled explosion”.

Wockhardt UK confirmed the incident with media saying, the investigation of the suspicious package had concluded. “The package was made safe and staff are now being allowed back into the facility,” a foreign media report said of the incident that took place on Wednesday. The company also said that the temporary suspension would not set back its schedule. BusinessLine reached out to the parent company, Wockhardt Ltd for more details and a response is awaited.

Wockhardt has an agreement with the United Kingdom government to “fill finish” Covid-19 vaccines at this facility in North Wales.

Just last month, UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson had visited the Wrexham facility, which was to start making 100 million doses of the AstraZeneca-OxfordUniversity vaccine for the UK, Dr Habil Khorakiwala, Wockhardt Founder-Chairman had then said.

In fact, the UK Government had reserved one fill and finish production line at Wockhardt UK for its exclusive use for 18 months to guarantee supply of vaccines for its citizens.

SII fire and other cyber attacks

The Wrexham incident comes just days after Serum Institute of India witnessed a massive fire at its Manjari facility in Pune, with the vaccine-major expected to take a ₹1,000 crore hit as a result. The company had assured that its Covid-19 inventory was not affected. A report is awaited from the many agencies investigating the fire to identify its cause.

Late last year, two Indian companies (Dr Reddy’s Laboratories and Lupin) had reported cyber-attacks, barely a fortnight apart. Dr Reddy’s has an alliance on the Russian vaccine Sputnik V. Details are not in public domain if these were isolated attacks on two Indian drug companies or whether there was a sinister design behind it. In fact, the United States too had reportedly witnessed cyber-attacks on its research facilities that worked on the Covid-19 vaccines.

A former senior police official told BusinessLine, vaccines are multi-billion dollar businesses, and destroying or even delaying schedules has financial ramifications. That being the case, he said, countries should step-in to protect such strategic assets that are linked to the health (as is this case) or finances of its people.

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Published on January 28, 2021
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