What Health Canada is doing to ease shortage of children’s pain, fever medications

By Shauna Hunt and Lucas Casaletto

Unprecedented demand is behind the shortage of children’s pain and fever medications across Canada, such as Advil and Tylenol. Still, the country’s health agency is doing its part to ramp up demand as cold and flu season arrives.

Federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos says more children are getting sick and contracting viruses, which has worsened due to COVID-19. Despite Health Canada’s efforts, government officials say the shortage could last until December.

Canadian parents have been continuously voicing their concerns on social media. One woman from Hamilton shared a post this week asking for help locating children’s liquid Advil or Tylenol products.

“My daughter just had three surgeries in one trip. We have a prescription, but we don’t drive, and we can’t find it anywhere,” wrote Angela Prevost on Facebook.

On September 27, Amber Mitchell-McCann shared a similar message of concern, asking if anyone in the Cornwall area knew of a pharmacy or store that carried children’s Advil or Tylenol.

One man who was shopping on Friday told CityNews that he noticed empty shelves at a Shoppers Drug Mart in Mississauga.

“Empty for kids. There’s nothing. We talked to the pharmacists, and they said the products are on backorder. Whenever they get it is when they get it.”

RELATED: Cold, flu medication shortages impacting Ontario pharmacies in middle of summer wave

The Ontario Pharmacists Association (OPA) says demand for liquid Tylenol and Advil skyrocketed over the summer due to the unexpected circulation of viruses.

“The manufacturers plan over a cycle of four seasons. That is how they match demand. When they saw record levels of 300 per cent in an increase in demand, there wasn’t the capacity to quickly turn around the product,” OPA Executive Director Justin Bates said.

“I think that demand issue is not just in Ontario or a Canadian problem; it’s global.”

In August, Bates and the OPA reassured parents they do not need a prescription to buy their children over-the-counter cold and flu medicine at a pharmacy amid a supply shortage.

A warning about a shortage of cough and flu medicine is on display at a Rexall pharamcy in Toronto.

A warning about a shortage of cough and flu medicine is on display at a Rexall pharmacy in Toronto. CITYNEWS

At the time, SickKids hospital said they were writing prescriptions for some children to maintain supplies of liquid Tylenol and Advil for admitted patients and to help find solutions for children discharged. Bates warned that the shortage could last until the fall, which it has.

On Friday, Health Canada released a public advisory on the shortage, with Duclos saying the government is doing everything it can to keep up.

“I personally spoke to several manufacturers, including Johnson & Johnson… to reiterate the urgent need to collaborate and find a long-term and short-term solution,” Duclos said. “So parents can have the medicine they need to care for their children.”

Health Canada says companies that supply the country have been provided pathways to import foreign products and are reaching out to additional suppliers.

Even though some manufacturers have ramped up production by 50 per cent, the OPA says it will take time to catch up as COVID-19 infections flare up again and the flu starts to spread.

“We expect that as we get into November, an increase in production will have a more steady flow of products, but it will probably be into December before you see… shelves looking more full,” Bates said.

In the meantime, parents are urged to speak with a family doctor or healthcare provider to seek alternatives.

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