Posted on: June 24, 2020; Updated on: July 9, 2020
One of the most significant product shortages that appeared almost immediately with the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic was hand sanitizer. As one of the top-promoted methods in helping slow the spread of the novel coronavirus, the product began to fly off store shelves, and production simply could not meet the demand. For nearly three months now, hand sanitizer is still challenging to find.
In an effort to support their communities through the shortage, several alumni from the University of South Carolina College of Pharmacy stepped up to help bridge the gap, using the capabilities of their compounding pharmacies to produce the scarce product.
John Holladay, 1997 Ph.D., a clinical assistant professor in Drug Discovery and Biomedical Sciences, is the lead pharmacist at Cut Rate Drug Store in Sumter, South Carolina. Holladay says he was approached by nurses from area nursing homes who were desperate to find hand sanitizer for their facilities. “The nursing home population is one of those that is most at risk,” he says. “We knew we had to do something to help.”
With an approved formula from the FDA, Holladay’s pharmacy began making hand sanitizer using Everclear® that was denatured with hydrogen peroxide along with other ingredients. “That was to ensure we wouldn’t be selling a distilled spirit,” he adds.
In addition to making the hand sanitizer available to area nursing homes, the pharmacy also provided it to first responders. As those needs were filled, the pharmacy made it available for purchase at the pharmacy. “We were going through it pretty rapidly,” Holladay says. “We’ve probably made at least 80 gallons, and we’ll continue to make it as long as there is a need.”
Holladay notes that the pharmacy will no longer be able to make the hand sanitizer once the state-of-emergency is declared over. “In normal circumstances, a pharmacy can only compound the sanitizer with a doctor’s order."
We would take care of patients all day, then stay after hours to make the hand sanitizer.
Bryan Ziegler, Pharm.D. Pharmacist-in-Charge, Moss Compounding Pharmacy
At Moss Compounding Pharmacy in Florence, S.C., Bryan Ziegler, 2001 Pharm.D., also had many requests from not only first responders, but also from physician and dentist offices. “We would take care of patients all day, then stay after hours to make the hand sanitizer,” he says. Ziegler would then make deliveries before the pharmacy opened each morning.
Ziegler used a recipe provided by the World Health Organization that is approved by the FDA, and his team has made more than 200 gallons since mid-March. “I think our hand sanitizer is available in every fire, police, EMT and EMS station in a three-county area,” he says.
His office is also helping to make strawberry and bubblegum flavored mouth rinses for pediatric dentist offices. “The hydrogen peroxide rinse helps with exposure,” Ziegler says, “and kids hate the mint flavor.”
Roberta Vining, 1987, R.Ph., knew early on how important hand sanitizer would be during the pandemic. As co-owner of Riley’s Drugs along with her father, Bob Perry, 1967, Vining says most of their requests for hand sanitizer came from patients coming to the drive-through at their Lexington location.
“We pooled our resources and gathered what we could to make it,” she says. “My dad made lots of trips to the liquor store, so it became it bit of a joke with us.”
Vining used the opportunity to provide hands-on experience for UofSC pharmacy students who were on rotation with one of her pharmacists, Assistant Professor Kathy Quarles-Moore. “We became the internet cafe, because the university had closed,” she says, “helping the students to meet their requirements for their rotations. It was a joint effort between myself, my dad, our techs, the pharmacists, staff and students to make it happen.”
Vining says another aspect that became an issue was the availability of plastic bottles to package the hand sanitizer. “It became a challenge to find bottles at an affordable price,” she says, “so we had to search for options to have on hand.”
"The recipe from the FDA is in liquid form,” Ziegler adds. “I talked to almost every bottle manufacturer across the country. We even told people who had empty spray bottles that we would refill them if they brought us the bottles, and we told them to hang on to their bottles.”
No matter how tall the challenge is, Gamecocks step up ... Our company is proud to do our part to help the university make sure that it is ready to welcome students, staff and faculty back to campus.
Lou Kennedy Owner and CEO, Nephron Pharmaceuticals
Nephron Pharmaceuticals, based in West Columbia, S.C., is also supporting the hand sanitizer effort. The company, headed by owner and CEO Lou Kennedy, a UofSC alumna, made hand sanitizer for its employees and their families and donated 50 liters of hand sanitizer to the Columbia VA Healthcare Center, William Jennings Bryan Dorn VA hospital. The company has also delivered the first 5,000 of a 100,000-bottle commitment of hand sanitizer to UofSC.
“No matter how tall the challenge is, Gamecocks step up,” says Kennedy. “Our company is proud to do our part to help the university make sure that it is ready to welcome students, staff and faculty back to campus.”
Other companies have also stepped up to help produce the much in-demand product. Alumna Pamela Quizon, 2019 Ph.D., encouraged her team at Integrated Micro-Chromatography Systems (IMCS), a biomanufacturing company based in Irmo, S.C., to join the effort. The company produced more than 100 liters of hand sanitizer.
Deborah Bowers, 2000 Pharm.D., owner of Yorkville Pharmacy in York, S.C., also made hand sanitizer for a period until supplies in her area were restored.
Ziegler reminds everyone that hand sanitizer is only necessary when soap and water are not available. “Essential employees are the ones who really need it because they have to interact with people and do not always have access to soap and water,” he says. “We made sure to make it available to our delivery drivers as well. But if you’re at home, all you need is soap and water.”
Everyone agrees that making hand sanitizer was something they felt they needed to do in order to help their individual communities. “This was the best way we could get through this and help each other,” says Holladay.