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By Lisa M. Campbell and Carla N. Hutton

The Food and Drug Administration (FDA) published a Federal Register notice on October 13, 2021, announcing the withdrawal of three guidance documents: “Temporary Policy for Preparation of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency (COVID-19)”; “Policy for Temporary Compounding of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency”; and “Temporary Policy for Manufacture of Alcohol for Incorporation Into Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency (COVID-19).” 86 Fed. Reg. 56960. According to the notice, FDA is withdrawing the guidance documents “because current data indicate that consumers and healthcare personnel are no longer experiencing difficulties accessing alcohol-based hand sanitizer products, and these temporary policies are no longer needed to help meet demand for alcohol-based hand sanitizer products or for alcohol for use in alcohol-based hand sanitizer.” The withdrawal date for the guidance documents is December 31, 2021. The notice states that firms manufacturing alcohol under the temporary policies for use in alcohol-based hand sanitizers and firms preparing alcohol-based hand sanitizers under the temporary policies must cease production of these products by December 31, 2021. Firms must cease, by March 31, 2022, distribution of any remaining hand sanitizer products that were prepared under the temporary policies before or on December 31, 2021. After March 31, 2022, FDA states that it intends to cease its temporary policy of not taking action with regard to distribution of hand sanitizers, or alcohol for use in alcohol-based hand sanitizers, prepared consistent with the circumstances described in the guidance documents.

Commentary

The withdrawal of these documents is not unexpected. FDA issued the documents in March 2020 to provide regulatory flexibility to certain firms to help meet the demand for alcohol-based hand sanitizer during the COVID-19 public health emergency (PHE). FDA states that it has determined that the demand for alcohol-based hand sanitizer has decreased and the supply of hand sanitizer from traditional manufacturers (i.e., firms other than those that entered into the over-the-counter drug industry for the first time to supply hand sanitizers during the PHE) has increased. FDA notes that although the temporary policies are being withdrawn, firms may continue to manufacture alcohol-based hand sanitizer products without an approved application, provided they comply with the applicable tentative final monograph and other applicable requirements, including current good manufacturing practice requirements under Section 501(a)(2)(B) of the Federal Food, Drug, and Cosmetic Act. FDA reminds distributors, re-packagers, and importers that they are also responsible for the safety and quality of the drugs they introduce into interstate commerce. Firms that registered and submitted drug product listing(s) for hand sanitizer(s) only but no longer manufacture such product, or plan to cease manufacturing such product, can deregister and delist their hand sanitizer product listing(s) by following the Electronic Drug Registration and Listing Instructions.


 

By Lynn L. Bergeson and Carla N. Hutton

Last week, press reported that the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) would assess distilleries making hand sanitizer $14,060 in fees as Monograph Drug Facilities (MDF) under the Over-the-Counter (OTC) Monograph Drug user fee program for fiscal year (FY) 2021.  Several days later, on December 31, 2020, the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Office of Public Affairs tweeted a statement from Brian Harrison, HHS Chief of Staff.  According to the statement, HHS has “directed FDA to cease enforcement of these arbitrary, surprise user fees.”  FDA announced the fee rates on December 29, 2020.  85 Fed. Reg. 85646.  According to the notice, MDFs are exempt from FY 2021 facility fees if they had ceased OTC monograph drug activities and updated their registration with FDA to that effect, prior to December 31, 2019 -- an impossibility for distilleries that began making hand sanitizer in 2020 in response to the COVID-19 pandemic.

According to the complete HHS statement, posted by the Distilled Spirits Council, FDA’s March 2020 guidance document, Temporary Policy for Preparation of Certain Alcohol-Based Hand Sanitizer Products During the Public Health Emergency (COVID-19), “contains no discussion regarding user fees or any indication such fees would be due by these entities, many of which would be entering the drug manufacturing business for the first time.”  HHS states that FDA’s action “was not cleared by HHS leadership, who only learned of it through media reports.”  The HHS Office of the General Counsel (OGC) reviewed the matter and “determined that the manner in which the fees were announced and issued has the force and effect of a legislative rule.  Only the HHS Secretary has the authority to issue legislative rules, and he would never have authorized such an action during a time in which the Department is maximizing its regulatory flexibility to empower Americans to confront and defeat COVID-19.”  Because HHS OGC has determined the FDA’s notice is a legislative rule and that no one at FDA has been delegated authority to issue such a rule, HHS states that the notice is void.  HHS leadership, based on the legal opinion, has ordered FDA’s Federal Register notice to be withdrawn, “meaning these surprise user fees will not need to be paid.”

Commentary

The decision comes as a huge relief to businesses far beyond the distillery industry.  FDA is to be commended for ensuring well-intended businesses that redeployed their infrastructure for all the right reasons were not inadvertently penalized for stepping up.