HONOLULU – On Saturday, March 29, a 55-gallon barrel of hand sanitizer rolled from the vat room of a distillery in Kunia, to staff and volunteers waiting next door in the tasting room. This is the result of Gov. David Ige and the co-founders of KoHana Hawaiian Agricole Rum organizing a local business hui to manufacture hundreds of gallons of U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved hand sanitizer for use during the current COVID-19 pandemic.
Anyone who’s tried to buy hand sanitizer knows it’s currently in short supply. Twelve days ago, KoHana Distillers reached out to the Governor’s Office and offered to fill the supply gap and provide sanitizer to hospitals, first responders, correctional facilities, homeless providers and to the Hawai‘i Dept. of Education at no cost.
A by-product of rum distilling is high-proof ethanol, the main ingredient required in FDA-approved sanitizers. So, the administration, through an inquiry with the Dept. of Commerce and Consumer Affairs, began providing guidance to KoHana Distillers and the Hawai‘i Agricultural Research Center (HARC) to help navigate the stringent rules and regulations required by the FDA. These initial efforts connected Phillip Giacobbi of Kaumana Pharmaceutics to the hui of businesses willing to provide bottles, labels, and distribution of the sanitizer. Giacobbi volunteered his expertise and sign-off as the pharmacist-in-charge during the permitting process.
HARC (formally the Hawai‘i Sugar Planters’ Association-HSPA), has a long history of volunteer service. During WWII, the association produced and contributed the “wonder drug” Penicillin to U.S. Armed Forces. 60-years-later, HARC’s level-2 lab became the sterile environment for compounding the hand sanitizer. On March 24, the FDA released new guidance which allowed KoHana Distillers to register as an over the counter (OTC) drug manufacturer and to begin preparing the hand sanitizer at its Kunia operation.
KoHana Distillers co-founder and owner Jason Brand gave his staff and volunteers from the business hui instructions Saturday, on how to label and safely fill hundreds of (16) and (64)-ounce bottles of the distillery-produced sanitizer to prepare it for delivery. He said, “Hawai‘i businesses have a long history of collaboration at times of community need. This is a great way to utilize a by-product of our distilling and to use our facility during this unprecedented crisis.”
Even hundreds of gallons of sanitizer won’t be enough to satisfy the need across the islands. KoHana has committed to continued production and is working with the Governor to create a model in which distilleries across the state can partner to produce FDA-approved sanitizer and disinfectant.
Today, Scott Morishige and a member of the Governor’s staff made the first delivery of sanitizer to The Institute for Human Services (IHS), a primary provider of homelessness services on O‘ahu. “This monumental effort by local business leaders proves that Hawai‘i has the community strength to persevere. We’ve been hit by disaster after disaster and yet we stand stronger than ever. It’s by working together as a community that we will weather this current crisis,” said Gov. Ige.
60 ml personal sized bottles of the sanitizer will be distributed by Gift of Giving Hawai‘i to the Hawai‘i Food Bank, Angel Network Charities, and Jarrett School in Palolo, which is still conducting classes.
In addition to KoHana Distillers, Kaumana Pharmaceutics, HARC (Executive Director Stevie Whalen and Blake Vance), the governor recognized other members of the business hui.
- Halm’s Enterprises – “Kim Chee King” Mike Irish, Owner & Mike Yonemura, President (bottles)
- HonBlue – Matthew Heim, Chief Brother Operator (labels)
- Aloha Green Apothecary – Tai Cheng, President (additional sanitizer production)
- American Savings Bank – Rich Wacker, President (financial support)
- Pharmacare – Byron Yoshino, President & CEO (facilities recruitment & expertise)
- Matson – (ingredient shipping)
(All images/video courtesy: State of Hawaii, unless otherwise noted)
HD video – Hand sanitizer bottling and labeling, KoHana Distillery (3-28-20):
(shot sheet attached)
HD video – “From Rum to Sanitizer” web feature:
HD video – Delivery of sanitizer to IHS (3-31-20):
Photographs – Hand sanitizer bottling and labeling, KoHana Distillery (3-28-20),
Delivery of sanitizer to IHS (3-31-20):
Photographs – Hawai‘i Agricultural Research Center lab (courtesy HARC):