Loosened FDA restrictions allowed new manufacturers to supply the demand for hand sanitizer when the pandemic broke out. But months after, several of these new products have been recalled, with the FDA issuing a list of hand sanitizers consumers should not use.
Hand sanitizer has consistently been one of the most requested types of PPE. A feature on schools in the Get Us PPE September Shortage Index revealed that this product was the third most requested PPE type among schools. In November and December, it was one of the three most requested types of PPE across the board.
Between October 2020 and January 2021, requests for hand sanitizer skyrocketed, more than tripling in the span of the last three months. Out of the facilities that requested hand sanitizer in January, 31% had a week or less before they would run out, and 15% had no supply remaining at all.
Looking Back: The Hand Sanitizer Shortage
As the beginning of the pandemic, demand for hand sanitizer shot up. Companies attempted to meet the demand but struggled to acquire the necessary supplies to produce sanitizer. Products like plastic pumps and bottle dispensers were in short supply, complicating the manufacture. CNN also reported that most manufacturers purchased these products from China. Thus, “[t]he virus and shutdown there created a huge backlog amid tremendous demand,” further worsening the situation.
Furthermore, many of the chemical components required to produce hand sanitizer were hard to come by, as many of those were also imported from China. In addition to the danger of the pandemic, high tariffs made it so that “[c]ompanies that want[ed] to ship products by air [were] paying eight times higher prices than usual,” one organization told Bloomberg.
Both these crises led to severe price gouging. Average in-store prices of hand sanitizer rose by 53% between March and November and price hikes were also recorded in online retailers like Amazon. “In February, the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) tracked surgical masks and hand sanitizers on Amazon and reported that prices of more than half of the products spiked by at least 50%, compared to the average price between December and February. Six months later, the US Public Interest Research Group (PIRG) found that sellers on Amazon were still charging up to 14 times more than other retailers for staple products such as soap and hand sanitizer,” reported Business Insider.
Due to this shortage, a search began for alternative components as well as more manufacturers. Liquor and gasoline companies moved to fill that demand, as “hand sanitizer can be made out of either ethyl alcohol, like the ethanol in alcoholic beverages, or isopropyl alcohol, which is typically derived from fossil fuels.” Eventually, large corporations began to catch up to these demands, making the production of hand sanitizer no longer affordable for small businesses. Thus, the majority of them have stopped as prices stabilized.
Hand Sanitizers Recalled
However, this search for alternatives also led to dangerous chemicals being incorporated in sanitizers, namely methanol. The explosion in sanitizer demand led to loosened FDA regulations on hand sanitizer production to encourage more manufacturers to shift to producing hand sanitizer. However, safety concerns quickly arose. As an example, reports of potentially elevated carcinogen levels in hand sanitizer manufactured from gasoline-ethanol led to a re-tightening of regulations.
Since June, the FDA has been continuously issuing updated lists of hand sanitizers to be recalled. Some of these products have tested positive for methanol, an alcohol that metabolizes in the body as formaldehyde (a known carcinogen); some contain a chemical known as 1-propanol, which contains levels of toxins “upwards of 4 times as potent to the central nervous system as regular alcohol.” Other sanitizers have also been recalled due to insufficient alcohol content below the FDA/CDC-recommended levels of 60%. These recalls not only have led to health concerns but have led to increasingly regulated production of sanitizers on a market that is already struggling to meet demand.
Get Us PPE Tackles the Shortage
Get Us PPE has previously partnered with Free People and Merci Handy in order to facilitate the distribution of hand sanitizer to the public and to healthcare workers. Free People has announced that “for each order from our website, one bottle [of Merci Handy sanitizer] will be donated to a frontline healthcare worker in need through the help of Get Us PPE.”
Through these partnerships, Get Us PPE hopes to continue to distribute hand sanitizer so that everyone can follow basic hygiene and protect themselves, as well as provide hand sanitizer to our frontline workers so they can keep themselves safe.
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