CALGARY -- The moment the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, many people started hoarding certain items that are essential for others who require them for health reasons.

One of those items, isopropyl alcohol, was essential to helping an eight-year-old Airdrie girl with cystic fibrosis, whose mother was sent scrambling to locate more when it grew scarce.

“It occurred to us that people were actually buying isopropyl alcohol and 70% alcohol to make hand sanitizer, so finding it in stores was impossible,” said Stephanie Leafloor, whose 8-year-old daughter has cystic fibrosis.

The Airdrie mom said her daughter  Emmarelies on a Positive Expiratory Pressure (PEP) device to help clear the mucus out of her lungs. Leafloor’s daughter uses the device twice a day and it needs to be cleaned after every use with isopropyl alcohol. She said supplies were hard to come by even before COVID-19 was declared a global pandemic on March 12.

“People just don’t understand necessarily that with a lot of those items, there are people who use it on a regular basis and they’re necessities to keep individuals with medical conditions healthy,” said Leafloor.

Supplies scarce

Rahim Rajan, a pharmacist with Capsule Pharmacy, said isopropyl alcohol and other items such as hand sanitizers, disinfectant wipes, masks and gloves are all scarce.

“Unfortunately it’s hard to come by now," said Rajan. "Our suppliers have - in coordination with the governmental regulatory authorities  - have decided there’s not going to be a lot of distribution at the retail level for  these essential personal protective equipment (PPE) and related items."

Rajan added  that proper hand washing is actually more effective compared to alcohol-based solutions, meaning that if people chose that option, there would be more supplies for those who really need it, such as  the Leafloor family.

“If they are in desperate need of any particular product, including isopropyl alcohol, and it hasn’t been available on the shelves in a while," he said, "my suggestion is to call your pharmacist to see if they can reach out to their supplier directly and see if they can make a one-off exception.”

Leafloor says luckily she was able to get her hands on a couple of bottles, but knows many other families in her situation who are running out.

She said there is the option to use bleach but it isn’t ideal as her daughter must place the PEP device in her mouth.

Leafloor explained that a well-sanitized device is essential to her daughter’s health as people with cystic fibrosis develop thicker secretions, which can harbour dangerous bacteria and viruses, making them prone to getting really sick.

“Even the common cold can be dangerous for her and develop infection that can cause irreparable damage to her lungs,” said Leafloor.