From the spring of 2020 through that summer, there were several items grocery and convenient stores could not keep in stock.
Among them were toilet paper, hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes. Panic buying was the main culprit for toilet paper shortages, due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But even after stores began limiting purchases to one or two packages of TP per customer, there were still serious shortages for a while.
The problem for items such as hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes was not so much panic buying, although that was a factor. The real issue was actual shortages of those products.
Supply Chain Could Cause Issues
As we head into the holidays, the lack of items such as hand sanitizer may not be due to panic buying or shortages. It could simply be that the supply chain dilemma is affecting just about everything.
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He told Forbes magazine, “Popular toys are going to be like hand sanitizer, not like toilet paper.” In other words, shortages will be due to availability rather than panic buying.
“But the consumer behavior is going to be the same,” he added. “They’re going to start disappearing from shelves. And people are going to go crazy.”
FDA Relaxed Its Guidelines
OK, so toys might be tougher to acquire for the holidays. But certainly hand sanitizer will be easier, right? After all, this time manufacturers have a heads up.
Not so fast, say consumer products analysts. In 2020, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) relaxed some policies regarding hand sanitizer production.
This allowed more companies to produce alcohol-based hand sanitizer. As well as other ingredients to help stem the tide of the public health emergency.
As a result, companies such as Coca-Cola, Tito’s Vodka and thousands of small distilleries got into the game. And hand sanitizer sales rose by 73 percent in March 2020 alone.
Requirements Tightening Again
Even with added production, store shelves emptied and people started buying hand sanitizer online. Amazon and other retailers had to step in to curtail price gouging. Some bottles of hand sanitizer were going for $150.
And, of course, there were scams. Some 75 hand sanitizers were eventually recalled by the FDA due to methanol contamination.
Fast forward to today. The FDA has announced it will soon tighten those guidelines again. Companies that began producing hand sanitizer in 2020 will have to start complying with previous, stricter guidelines. Or stop selling this product.
Making those changes might not be profitable for companies that don’t normally specialize in products such as hand sanitizer.
Will Demand Outstrip Supply?
The question becomes, will we see another hand sanitizer shortage before this pandemic fades away? Assuming it ever does.
It will depend on a variety of factors. Including how many companies continue to produce hand sanitizer. And how much the supply chain logjams will affect distribution. As well as whether stores will allow hoarding.
Google searches for “hand sanitizer” surged in the spring of 2020. They died down after stores began rationing and supply caught up with demand. In the meantime, the FDA produced two guidance documents to try to offset the shortage.
One was titled, “Temporary Policy for Preparation of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency (COVID-10).” The other was “Policy for Temporary Compounding of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency.”
Hand Sanitizer Safety Concerns
Loosening guidelines for the production of hand sanitizers had safety issues written all over it.
At the time, FDA Commissioner Stephen Hahn said, “With this increased supply comes our continued mission to ensure safety of these products.
“It is important that hand sanitizers be manufactured in a way that makes them unpalatable to people, especially young children. And that they are appropriately labeled to discourage accidental or intentional ingestion.
“Additionally, hand sanitizers are not proven to treat COVID-19. And like other products meant for external use, are not for ingestion, inhalation or intravenous use.”
Putting a Bow on Sanitizers
The CDC recommends the use of alcohol-based sanitizers with greater than 60 percent ethanol or 70 percent isopropanol as the preferred form of hand hygiene in healthcare settings.
According to a global market report, the hand sanitizer market is expected to grow from $2.59 billion in 2020 to $5.12 billion in 2025.
Soap and water is still the recommended way to clean our hands. It’s an effective method if done properly. Including a thorough washing between fingers. When soap and water are not available, especially in public places, waterless hand sanitizers are recommended.
Some say hand sanitizer creates antibiotic resistance. Manufacturers respond that hand sanitizer destroys cell walls, killing bacteria and evaporating before germs can develop a resistance.
Others claim hand sanitizers kill good bacteria as well as bad. Manufacturers counter that any good bacteria killed by a hand sanitizer repopulates quickly.
Regardless, we shouldn’t be surprised if one of the holiday gifts we open this year is a sanitizing product. And we’ll know the giver is concerned about our health.
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