Amid hand sanitizer shortage, pharmacists emphasize hygiene

Public health. Sold out of hand sanitizer and face masks for the foreseeable future, local pharmacists say practicing basic hand hygiene is more important than stocking up.

| 04 Mar 2020 | 01:45

If the continuing news coverage of the novel coronavirus has you thinking about stocking up on hand sanitizer or face masks, local pharmacists say you’re out of luck – at least for the foreseeable future.

In Stanhope, N.J., Lakeland Pharmacy Manager Jay Panchal said his store has been out of face masks for a while now. The hand sanitizer shortage is a recent development, he said.

“Up until yesterday, we had hand sanitizer,” he said on Tuesday. “Now we’re out, and we can’t get any more.”

Panchal said he and his staff have been advising customers looking for the products to search online or try Walmart.

“Somebody came and bought 10 bottles of (hand) sanitizer, and that’s everything we had on the shelf,” he said.

Sharad Patel, owner and pharmacist in charge of Sparta Pharmacy, said people are widening their search area in hopes of locating the product.

“We’re seeing patients that are coming in from out of town looking for supplies,” he said. “The small supply that we did have we sold.”

Patel said his pharmacy has not raised prices on anything, but he has heard of places that have.

“Even some of our wholesalers have raised prices,” he said. “I think one company had masks, but they were charging four times what we would normally pay.”

In addition to not having any inventory to offer customers, the pharmacy managers have no idea when the empty shelves will be restocked.

“Our wholesalers, they’re limiting us,” Panchal said. “We did get hand sanitizers the other day. We ordered 10, but we only got five. They’re limiting how many can be distributed per store.”

Out in Pike County, Pa., Akshay Bellary, pharmacy manager of Good Health Pharmacy in Dingmans Ferry, said he doesn’t refer customers seeking hand sanitizer anywhere else.

“I talk to almost every pharmacist (in the area) on a regular basis, and nobody else has it,” he said.

At North Country Pharmacy in Hamburg, N.J., Pharmacist Jay Shah said his suppliers have limited the quantities that can be purchased. But, for now, his pharmacy is meeting the need.

“There’s a shortage, but we’ve figured out how to get it for our customers,” he said. “They’re our first priority.”

24/7 news coverage isn't helping

Customer reaction to the novel coronavirus has varied widely, pharmacists said.

Jean Murphy, pharmacist at Akin’s Pharmacy in the Village of Warwick, said pharmacy staff members try to reassure customers.

“Some are more anxious than others,” she said. “We just tell them, ‘If you don’t find (hand sanitizer), make sure you wash your hands good, wash the areas down, use a wipe or cleanser.’”

Patel said he thinks the public’s response thus far has been appropriate.

“I think they’re just trying to be proactive at this point,” Patel said. “As long as we’re following good hand hygiene and avoiding crowded areas, we should be okay.”

Pharmacist Daniel Gutkind, of West Milford Pharmacy in New Jersey, said news coverage of the coronavirus isn’t helping things.

“It’s the main story in the media, in the paper, everywhere,” he said. “So people are concerned. Especially when it’s front and center, 24/7. That’s all you hear.”

In the absence of hand sanitizer, Gutkind said people can take precautions at home.

“We just advocate for common sense, washing your hands with soap,” Gutkind said. “Whatever you can do at the moment until supplies become readily available again.”

Monroe Pharmacy Owner and Pharmacist Mohammed Iqbal said alternatives to hand sanitizer are available.

“We are telling people if you don’t have it, just get some rubbing alcohol,” he said. “That should do the same type of work. People are just used to hand sanitizer because it’s easy to apply on your skin.”

As with the flu, Shah said that people with health concerns and the elderly are at increased risk of developing complications from the coronavirus.

“I do tell my diabetic patients, my immuno-suppressed patients, my transplant patients, the elderly to be extra cautious,” he said. “Everybody else will recover. There are more people who recover from the disease than people who are dying from it.”

The way people greet each other should temporarily change, Iqbal said.

“Shaking hands should be avoided,” he said. “It looks mean, but I think people can say, ‘Excuse me, but I respect your health.’”

Gutkind said he is not worried about the possibility of contracting coronavirus from an infected customer.

“We’re pretty confident in our government doing the right job,” he said.

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If you don’t find (hand sanitizer), make sure you wash your hands good, wash the areas down, use a wipe or cleanser."
- Jean Murphy, Akin’s Pharmacy