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Auburn’s pharmacy school supports community with production of hand sanitizer

This post originally appeared on the Auburn University Newsroom.

In the wake of COVID-19, items such as hand sanitizer, cleaning solutions and other household essentials have become coveted commodities. In an effort to ensure those in the Auburn community continuing to serve are protected, faculty, staff and students at the Auburn University Harrison School of Pharmacy came together to compound, package and deliver hand sanitizer.

“We are all facing new challenges together and we know we are having to come up with unique solutions to address this unique problem,” said Richard A. Hansen, dean of the Harrison School of Pharmacy. “We would like to contribute by manufacturing hand sanitizer for our friends and families and employees who are remaining on the job in the community.”

Hand sanitizer is important because it helps to kill off infectious agents on the skin, such as bacteria and viruses. While proper handwashing with soap and water is the most effective practice, hand sanitizer is useful for those times when soap and water are not readily available.

For the prevention of coronavirus, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after you have been in a public place, or after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing.

If soap and water are not readily available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Cover all surfaces of your hands and rub them together until they feel dry. Lastly, avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.

After the university moved to its alternate operating procedure in late March, Dean Hansen approached Erika Kleppinger and Kevin Astle, both faculty in the Department of Pharmacy Practice, about compounding hand sanitizer. Kimberly Braxton Lloyd, associate dean for clinical affairs and outreach, received permission from the Alabama Board of Pharmacy to compound in the school’s skills labs as an extension of the Auburn University Employee Pharmacy. Additionally, the project received funding from the Auburn University Concessions Board.

After ordering supplies, the group collaborated with Feng Li and Jay Ramapuram, faculty from the Department of Drug Discovery and Development, to finalize calculations and formulations.

On April 7, the first batches were compounded and bottled with the first wave of distribution occurring later in the week. First recipients of the hand sanitizer were the City of Auburn Department of Public Safety, Auburn University Facilities and Auburn University Human Resources, as well as pharmacies in the community.

They have produced more than 500 bottles so far, but once more supplies come in, the plan is to do a few thousand.

With the shortage of hand sanitizer and a heavier workload for health care professionals, the group identified this project as a way for the school of pharmacy to utilize its expertise and facilities to fill a need in the community.

“During this pandemic, local pharmacies have had an increased volume of prescriptions to fill and also are dealing with different workflow situations,” said Kleppinger. “There are recipes on the internet to make homemade hand sanitizer, however the raw ingredients may not be readily available.”

“Pharmacists have expertise in compounding techniques and access to ordering raw ingredients, so that quality products can be made, however they are overwhelmed with their current situation. As a school of pharmacy, we have the personnel, facilities, supplies and equipment to compound on a larger scale than most community pharmacies and have contacts throughout the community to distribute to those most in need. This is one small way that we can contribute to the outreach mission of Auburn University.”

The project also serves as an opportunity for students to put into practice what they learn in the classroom. Student volunteers have the opportunity to assist in the compounding and packaging. To maintain social distancing standards, no more than 10 people are allowed in the lab at a time.

“While this preparation is not difficult, understanding the basics of weighing, measuring and pharmaceutical compounding is important and students were able to jump in and help with minimal instructions,” said Kleppinger. “Student involvement helps to reinforce the techniques they have used in the lab and allows them to apply concepts in a real-world environment.”

The Harrison School of Pharmacy emphasizes the principles of teaching, research and outreach in each of the school’s efforts. For Kleppinger, being a part of this project was a way to combine each of those in a meaningful and practical way.

“I love that this was a way to incorporate my knowledge as a pharmacist, my role as a skills lab coordinator and my passion for teaching into one project,” said Kleppinger. “It was all worth it when I got to see everyone—pharmacist faculty, research faculty and student pharmacists—working together. I think everyone learned something throughout the process and it felt good to know that we were compounding something that many people are in need of right now.”