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Filling the Need:
Producing Hand Sanitizer During a Pandemic


Pharmaceutical Sciences creates hand sanitizer to prep for possible shortages.


By Chris Pennington

Not too long ago, shoppers could buy 24 ounces of hand sanitizer for $1.49. As COVID-19 fears became real, many people began stocking up on disinfectants, because washing and sanitizing hands was part of the consistent messaging around safety and transmission prevention.

But the run on sanitizer also provided an opportunity. Many home-brewed recipes for hand sanitizer gels and sprays began popping up on the internet. Distilleries began switching from making whiskey to hand sanitizer production.

When the St. Jude Incident Command Center opened at St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital to address the COVID-19 pandemic, hand sanitizer was plentiful — but that didn’t mean a shortage would not occur. Pat Keel, senior vice president and chief financial officer, offered daily updates on supplies. A recurring discussion topic was the risk of a shortage of hand sanitizer.

Chief Pharmaceutical Officer William Greene, PharmD, was paying attention.

Man and woman in white coats

Cindy Brasher, left, and Keith Young, PharmD, compound hand sanitizer in a research lab.

“We knew there might come a point where we would need to make the compounding for hand sanitizer,” he says. Greene asked Manager of Compounding Cindy Brasher, PharmD, to come up with a plan.

“We were looking at the possibility of a shortage and thought it would be a good time to prepare,” Brasher says. “We wanted to get at least one batch done as a trial before we might be asked to produce a replacement supply.

“This process was a nice collaboration of groups within the facility,” Brasher says. “We borrowed a hydrometer from one of the research labs and used Dr. Mary Relling’s lab to make the hand sanitizer because we needed a fume hood.”

The process was monitored by Guy Joyner, general safety officer, and Terry Coggins of Environmental Health and Safety. The effort resulted in 30 liters. The batch is on hand, and it is ready to be put to use. The Pharmaceutical Department is also ready to produce more if needed.

“To look at what pharmacies around other hospitals are taking on and doing is something,” Brasher says. “They couldn’t get their own product, so they made it. If needed, now we know we can make it, as well.”