With coronavirus infections steadily rising, 2021 is shaping up as another year of shortages for disposable gloves.
On Jan. 7, the United States reached another grim milestone in the COVID-19 saga, reporting more than 4,000 pandemic-related deaths in a single day. It was the third day in a row of record daily deaths in the U.S. from the disease, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
Of course, the pandemic’s reach extends far beyond North America. In Britain, Prime Minister Boris Johnson just announced a new national lockdown until at least mid-February. Germany has extended its nationwide lockdown until at least the end of January. Japan has issued a state of emergency for Tokyo as infections rise.
The numbers are not dropping
Instead of seeing the coronavirus wane, we are witnessing an explosion of cases. Infections in the U.S. alone have soared past 20 million, with more than 350,000 deaths. Worldwide those numbers are nearly 90 million infections and 2 million deaths.
The pandemic is persistent and affects every country in the world. People who have always worn gloves continue to use them in even greater numbers, and in nations where gloves were not routinely worn, they have become essential.
Excitement over the recent rollout of coronavirus vaccines has been tempered somewhat on the front lines of the healthcare industry, the New York Times reported. Many of the doctors and nurses awaiting inoculation fear that the optimism stirred by the vaccine will overshadow a crisis that has drawn scant public attention in recent months: the shortage of personal protective equipment that has led medical workers to ration their use of disposable gloves, gowns, and N95 respirator masks.
Progress at a snail’s pace
All that adds up to more of the same in the early part of 2021 that we saw in 2020: Demand is enormous, supply is reeling, and prices for nitrile gloves are the highest they’ve ever been.
Industry experts predict that the global glove shortage will last beyond the first quarter of 2022. That is especially true of nitrile gloves, as producers have not been able to secure enough nitrile butadiene rubber to substantially expand output.
Glove makers in Southeast Asia continue to fight virus surges among workers, which further limits their production capability and increases strain on the supply chain. Prominent manufacturers have said that glove prices for nitrile could increase by as much as 30% in Q2.
We are all in this together
These conditions leave everyone along the supply chain stressed and not without their share of anger and frustration. There are many complex forces at play that contribute to supply and demand imbalance. One cold, hard truth about the market, however, is pretty simple: It sets its own price levels without regard to hardship or sentimentality.
We expect the global shortage of gloves, especially nitrile, to go on for months. Prices will eventually stabilize, but in the short term, they will keep rising. Nitrile will continue to be uncomfortably expensive.
For the time being, talk with your customers about the many solutions that vinyl gloves present. Remember that synthetic vinyl—which incorporates nitrile-like elastomers to produce an even more versatile glove—creates even more opportunities.
Creativity, and patience, are two foundations we can build on together.