Washington was the first state to declare a state of emergency over the coronavirus pandemic, when Governor Jay Inslee announced statewide restrictions on February 29. At the time, infections in the state had risen from one to seven cases. New York, California and New Jersey were not far behind, with all four states essentially shut down by early March.
By the time shut down orders were in place, the nation was already in the midst of a severe hand sanitizer shortage. Retail shelves were wiped clean as consumers heeded warnings to take steps to slow the spread of the virus. On March 11th, a report in The New York Times noted, "Where it isn't sold out, enterprising sellers are charging outrageously inflated prices simply because they can."
"If you don't have any hand sanitizer," the paper continued, "you're not likely to get some while the manufacturers create enough supply to meet the frenzied demand caused by panic over coronavirus." Until, that is, compounding pharmacies became involved.
At the urging of the Alliance for Pharmacy Compounding (APC), an industry trade association, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration announced in late March that it would permit "the temporary compounding of certain alcohol-based hand sanitizer products." The agency provided detailed guidance for licensed compounders to follow, and noted that such permission would extend for the duration of the public health emergency.
And with that, compounding pharmacies across the nation went to work. "As compounding pharmacies, we have the training, the facilities, the materials in order to compound hand sanitizers," Dana Reed-Kane, co-owner of Tucson-based Reed's Compounding Pharmacy told Tucson.com. Reed-Kane noted her pharmacy started making batches of high-quality hand sanitizer that would be donated to first responders, and sold to consumers.
Compounding pharmacists also raised their hands to try and alleviate the many drug shortages that have ensued. In late March, leaders of several national pharmacy trade associations – APC along with the National Alliance of State Pharmacy Associations, National Community Pharmacists Association, and the American Pharmacists Association – contacted the FDA to offer compounding pharmacies as a way to alleviate shortages of products such as pain relievers, zinc and vitamin C supplements, cough medications, saline solutions for nebulizers, and critical prescription drugs. "We stand ready to work with the FDA at this critical time – to be a resource on how compounding pharmacies can safely provide critical OTC and prescription drug products in shortage," the industry associations wrote.
In the interim, the APC created a "Shortage Drug Source" for hospitals as a way for them to connect with compounders equipped to provide required drugs necessary to treat COVID-19 patients. "Our aim is to alleviate patient suffering and even death by speeding the connection between hospitals in need of COVID treatment medications and the compounders who can supply those drugs," said APC President Sean Hodges, owner of Innovation Compounding in Kennesaw, Georgia. "We're grateful to the FDA for recent temporary guidance that makes this kind of emergency compounding possible," he added.
All pharmacies continue to play a vital, front line role as the COVID-19 health crisis continues. But a special tip of the hat to the nation's compounding pharmacists, who proactively worked to address shortages of desperately needed supplies and medications.