Panic Buyers Strip Shelves Bare, Leaving Diabetics Without Rubbing Alcohol for Injections

As the COVID-19 pandemic sweeps the globe, many people have been faced with the challenge of trying to find basic necessities in their local stores. But while the rest of the planet is searching for toilet paper, wipes, hand sanitizer, hand soap, and certain types of food, people with diabetes have encountered an additional difficulty as they seek out diabetes supplies, namely rubbing alcohol.

People with insulin-dependent diabetes use rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes to clean their skin and their supplies before injecting their insulin or setting up their insulin pumps. Without rubbing alcohol, it can be very difficult to make sure everything is sterile and to ward off infection.

When hand sanitizer and soap first began flying off shelves in the U.S. in February, some people spread the word that homemade hand sanitizer could be made using aloe vera and rubbing alcohol or isopropyl alcohol. But that caused panic buyers to stock up on rubbing alcohol too, which, along with the rapid speed with which healthcare workers are going through rubbing alcohol, left nothing for people with diabetes and other specialized medical needs to use when giving themselves injections.

“Hospitals are wiping down everything all the time—with every type of virucide that they have at their disposal,” says Andy Lerman, vice president of operations for Hydrox Laboratories, which manufactures sanitation supplies like rubbing alcohol. “I’m making it as fast as I can, but I have more orders than I have capacity to manufacture.”

Now people who give themselves injections on a regular basis and who don’t have access to rubbing alcohol are running the risk of infection and compromising their health and lives. If they get a bad enough infection, they may end up in the one place everyone is trying to avoid right now—the hospital. Similarly, if a person with diabetes has to go to multiple store locations in search of rubbing alcohol, they increase their risk of being exposed to COVID-19 and also ending up in the hospital.

And because diabetes increases a person’s risk of COVID-19 complications and death, going to the hospital for a preventable infection could put a diabetic person’s health and life at risk.

“We’re all supposed to be staying at home, and I’m out going to 10 different stores,” says 33-year-old Caroline Gregory, who has diabetes. “That’s also not safe.”

There are a few alternatives to rubbing alcohol, such as witch hazel, vodka, hydrogen peroxide, or liquid iodine, but some of these are less effective than rubbing alcohol or can be unwieldy for on-the-go insulin pump changes or injections.

Luckily, in certain locations, supermarket staff members are purposely saving essential items for those who are most in need of them, such as the elderly and immunocompromised. If you have diabetes and are in immediate need of rubbing alcohol or alcohol wipes for your own health and safety, don’t be afraid to ask a store employee if they have more in the back; you are just the type of person they’ve been saving high-demand items for.

Please remember to leave some for other people when you’re out buying your household necessities. You never know what particular product someone else is going to be in desperate need of for whatever reason. We’re all in this together, and we need to protect each other and show kindness rather than look out only for ourselves. Stay safe, everyone!

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Elizabeth Nelson is a wordsmith, an alumna of Aquinas College in Grand Rapids, a four-leaf-clover finder, and a grammar connoisseur. She has lived in west Michigan since age four but loves to travel to new (and old) places. In her free time, she. . . wait, what’s free time?
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