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UW School of Pharmacy Produces Hand Sanitizer during COVID-19 Supply Shortage

April 3, 2020
three people in lab protective gear produce hand sanitizer
From left, Kem Krueger, dean of the UW School of Pharmacy, assists with labeling, while Sreejayan Nair, professor of pharmacology, and Amit Thakar, research associate, dispense hand sanitizer into containers. (UW Photo)

As people quickly learned during the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many household staples normally in plentiful supply suddenly vanished from grocery store shelves.

Among those products was any type of hand sanitizer. This shortage didn’t only affect individuals and families; it also impacted health care providers, including physicians in private practice, clinics, assisted living facilities and Ivinson Memorial Hospital in Laramie.

As the shortage worsened, it was unclear, in some cases, how additional supplies of sanitizer could be found.   

Enter University of Wyoming School of Pharmacy Professor Sreejayan Nair. Nair had an idea of how to convert a pharmacy lab into a temporary hand sanitizer factory.

Nair, director of the School of Pharmacy’s biomedical sciences graduate program, presented his idea to School of Pharmacy Dean Kem Krueger and College of Health Sciences Dean David Jones.

“They were both excited and wholeheartedly supported this effort,” Nair says. “Dean Krueger also came up to the lab and helped us label the sanitizer. Because of the social distancing, we had limited personnel working in the lab. Dean Jones made calls to clinics around town and personally delivered the sanitizer.”

To date, containers have been distributed to the Laramie fire stations, UW Student Health Service clinic, UW custodial services, Laramie Reproductive Clinic, Laramie Care Center, the Downtown Clinic, Albany Community Health Clinic and Ivinson Memorial Hospital.

While time was of the essence to begin production, rules needed to be followed in accordance with the Food and Drug Administration’s (FDA) guidelines.

“We used a World Health Organization (WHO) recommended formulation, which is consistent with the FDA’s recently updated policy for temporary compounding of alcohol-based sanitizer products during the public health emergency,” Nair says. “We used the WHO recommended hand-sanitizer formulation, which also has been adapted by the FDA.”

The finished sanitizer contains alcohol, glycerin and hydrogen peroxide. The UW team then puts it in 250-milliliter containers and labels them according to FDA specifications.

As many university employees are working remotely off campus, personnel and lab supplies have been hard to find.

Jack Leonhardt, manager of UW’s chemical stockroom, located in the Physical Sciences Building, is credited with saving the day by providing the pharmacy lab the needed chemicals and containers to allow full production of much-needed hand sanitizer.

“Obtaining chemicals and containers was challenging,” Nair says, noting that Leonhardt “did a yeoman’s job sourcing and procuring the required supplies.”

No one is sure how long the impact of COVID-19 will last in Wyoming or elsewhere. In this regard, efforts such as hand sanitizer production in the UW School of Pharmacy could continue, if necessary.

“We are limited by the supplies,” Nair says. “However, as long as there is a need and there are supplies, we are willing to produce as much as we can. We have prepared about 30-40 gallons as of now.”

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