London

With hand sanitizer in short supply, this London pharmacy made their own

Watching the supply fall and price rise of hand sanitizer, a pair of London pharmacists decided to mix up their own and sell it to customers at cost.

Seeing supply fall and prices rise, they mixed up batches to sell at cost

Pharmacist Samer Serhan said a shortage of hand sanitizer and its key ingredients are causing a shortage in stores and in some cases, price-gouging. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

It was a situation that didn't sit right with pharmacist Samer Serhan. 

Not only was hand-sanitizer becoming more difficult to find, it was also getting expensive as the coronavirus outbreak got worse. 

He couldn't get it from his supplier at a reasonable price and customers were telling him it was selling in stores for up to $16 for a small bottle. At that price, he was concerned people would leave the useful item on the shelf in the midst of a pandemic. 

"There's a supply issue, you can't find it anywhere," said Serhan, who co-owns TMC Pharmacy at Gainsborough and Hyde Park. "We noticed that where it is being sold, people are trying to make a quick buck out of a tough situation." 

So to fix the situation Serhan and his partner Ennis Obaisi rolled up the sleeves of their lab coats, channelled their inner Walter White and got to work in the lab. 

The pharmacy is selling hand sanitizer mixed on site in these spray bottles for $2.99 a bottle. (Andrew Lupton/CBC)

Using a recipe approved by the World Health Organization, the pair mixed up the following ingedients in their lab:

  • Isopropyl alcohol (rubbing alcohol) at 99 per cent strength. 
  • Glycerine.
  • Peroxide.
  • Distilled water. 

The result was a batch of 30 small spray bottles of virus-killing hand sanitizer. It's the stuff you'd buy at any pharmacy (if you could find it) but without the sticker shock. Their price? $2.99 a bottle. 

"We're selling them at cost," said Serhan. "We're making no money on this. We just wanted to serve the community." 

Serhan says mixing up a batch of effective hand sanitizer doesn't require a chemistry degree. 

"You could technically make this at home, but we have a clean room and a fume hood," he said. 

In order to be effective, the final mix must be more than 70 percent alcohol, said Serhan. 

"Obviously we recommend people use soap and water, but hand sanitizer works when you're on the go," he said.

As word of their lab work got out, Serhan had no shortage of customers. 

"People have been calling and asking for them," he said. "If we could get commercially available hand sanitizer and sell it at cost, we would. We're trying to but it's really hard to come by."

"This is a last resort, and it's a pandemic."  

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