Cork companies collaborating in ‘national interest’ to make sanitiser for health service due to coronavirus shortage

Cork companies collaborating in ‘national interest’ to make sanitiser for health service due to coronavirus shortage
COVID -19 Corona virus precautions at Blackpool Shopping Centre, Cork. Hand sanitizers are the entrance/exit of the shopping centre. Pic; Larry Cummins

ONE Cork company has halted its regular work, while a Cork distillery is making alcohol available free of charge to manufacture sanitiser.

A lab has halted its regular production of certain lines to instead turn its attention to making hand sanitiser for the health service, with another Cork company providing the main raw material-alcohol- to do so, free of charge.

Mervue Laboratories in Watergrasshill employs 90 people and usually manufactures nutraceuticals. It exports its products to over 60 countries worldwide.

Despite “vibrant” sales, its co-owner William Twomey will be diverting his team away from normal manufacturing business this week to use his production lines “in the national interest” to make hand sanitising gel.

The decision to make such a significant change to the business was one that was made very quickly and involved collaboration from a number of people from across a variety of organisations.

Mr Twomey said he first became aware of the seriousness of the problems posed by shortages of hand sanitiser just last week after the issue was highlighted by Bishopstown pharmacist, Ciaran O’Connor.

“I was down in my local pharmacy and the pharmacist Ciaran was very concerned that lives would be lost as there is a global shortage of hand gel. Pharmacies and stores can’t get any, but more importantly, stocks are dwindling fast for front line staff. He asked if I could do anything?” After discussing the issue in house at Mervue Laboratories, Mr Twomey subsequently contacted the HSE who confirmed the difficulties. He then set out to source raw materials to see if it would be possible to begin producing hand sanitiser.

One of the key ingredients in hand sanitiser is alcohol, and Mr Twomey was put in touch with Tommy Keane, from the Irish Distillers’ distillery in Midleton.

Irish Distillers approached the Department of Health and the Health Service Executive (HSE) to inform them that they were in a position to help with the challenges posed by the shortages, and the company came on board to provide the raw materials needed by Mervue Laboratories to produce the sanitiser.

COVID -19 Corona virus precautions at Blackpool Shopping Centre, Cork. Hand sanitizers are the entrance/exit of the shopping centre. Pic; Larry Cummins
COVID -19 Corona virus precautions at Blackpool Shopping Centre, Cork. Hand sanitizers are the entrance/exit of the shopping centre. Pic; Larry Cummins

“The demand for alcohol gel is at unprecedentedly high levels and is set to remain so for the foreseeable period. Alcohol gel plays a vital part in the frontline efforts of those who are fighting to contain the Covid-19 virus, not least our healthcare professionals working in hospital and other healthcare settings,” Mr Keane said.

“Our distillery in Midleton, together with our partners Mervue Laboratories in Cork, have the necessary products and supply chain available to manufacture large-scale quantities of alcohol gel and to make this available for use by healthcare authorities on the frontline in the period ahead.

“Large-scale quantities of alcohol are being made available free of charge by Irish Distillers. Production will commence immediately with the end product being delivered to the HSE’s supply centre thereafter for distribution to hospitals and other healthcare facilities,” Mr Keane added.

He said the company stood “committed to the people and communities of Ireland during this difficult time” and that they “will continue to collaborate with the health authorities so as to ensure our efforts are channelled to greatest effect.

“Like so many, Irish Distillers is doing what we can at a time of great national crisis. We hope that in doing so, it helps our healthcare professionals in their efforts to protect all of us from the spread of the virus,” he added.

Mr Twomey meanwhile said the Department of Agriculture also came on board, and agreed to fast-track licensing for the sanitiser to make production a reality.

“I’ve never seen anything like this in all my life. We’ve worked all weekend to source the raw materials and everyone has come together on this, lots of people from different organisations have been involved,” Mr Twomey explained.

Staff have now been diverted from normal business at the Watergrasshill facility.

“We have told our clients that we have put production on hold in the national interest in order to meet the unprecedented demand and the requirements of the HSE and the amazing front line staff.

“We’re going on shifts, and some of the management team will be going into packaging. Everyone is involved,” he said.

With the exception of a small number of original orders taken, Mr Twomey says the company will be focusing all of their efforts into producing sanitiser solely for the health service.

There is one challenge to ensure continued large scale production of the sanitiser, and that is sourcing packaging. “We are appealing to anyone who can supply bottles, and in particular 250ml bottles with a flip top, to get in touch,” he said.

Meanwhile, pharmacist Ciaran O’Connor who first highlighted the issue to Mr Twomey said the move was a “great example of how Cork can respond” to the outbreak.

“Hand sanitiser is in short supply around the world because of the pandemic and it is fantastic that two Cork based companies have come together to help our very strained health system.” 

He said there was a lot of fear about the pandemic among people and that Mervue Laboratories were providing an enormous service. “Fair play to William, I only met him last week and he took everything on board and stepped up for the people and the health service,” he said.

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