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Children’s Tylenol, Advil shortage in Alberta attributed to summer COVID infections

Click to play video: 'Alberta pharmacies dealing with shortage of some children’s medication' Alberta pharmacies dealing with shortage of some children’s medication
Parents of younger kids may have noticed some over the counter children's medication is hard to find, such as Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen). It’s a concern ahead of fall and the school season. Alberta Health says a higher than expected demand because of COVID-19 cases over the summer has caused a shortage. Nicole Stillger reports – Aug 17, 2022

A nationwide shortage of children’s cold and flu medication is prompting concern over what will happen in Alberta once school starts up in a few weeks.

“They’re going to start getting really sick. And we’re we’re going to start getting more phone calls about Tylenol,” said Nadia Fatth, a pharmacy assistant at the The Medicine Shoppe Pharmacy near 114 Street and 40 Avenue in south Edmonton.

For months now, she says pharmacies have been dealing with backorders for both tablets and liquid suspension children’s Tylenol (acetaminophen) and Advil (ibuprofen).

Fatth said they’re usually overflowing with kid’s products in the weeks leading up to the beginning of the school year.

“We aren’t getting anything. As you can see, there’s literally nothing,” she said, gesturing to a sparse shelf behind her.

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Parents have been calling the pharmacy looking for Tylenol and Advil. If there happens to be some in stock, Fatth said customers typically swing by quickly to pick it up before someone else does.

Read more: Drug makers boosting production of kids’ painkillers amid shortage: pharmacist group

September typically sees an uptick in colds, flus and other diseases easily spread in closed spaces like classrooms. The lack of available medications concerns Edmonton parent Melissa Tiahlo, who had trouble this week finding medication for her daughter.

“The last two years, it’s been crazy,” she said of the various supply chain issues since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

“I’m a little worried going into the school year because, you know, we usually historically by second or third week of September, they’ll have colds and then what do we do? Especially some of the younger ones, like nothing (is) available,” Tiahlo said, noting fever reduction is important to prevent seizures in young kids.

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On Sunday, her daughter came down with a respiratory illness and needed headache relief.

“We went everywhere. Oh, my goodness! Five or six different grocery stores. Couldn’t find a thing,” Tiahlo said.

“We ended up going with some homeopathic remedies and then we were able to luck out and find some on Amazon — we got some some product on there.”

One solution in the meantime: try to get a prescription.

“We are a compounding pharmacy, so if the parents can go to doctors and get their prescriptions for Tylenol, we can make it ourselves,” Fatth said. “Schools coming up, so that’s the best thing that we can do for now.”

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Pharmacists can dispense liquid acetaminophen from large stock bottles without a prescription, but the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association noted those going that route need to be patient.

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“Caregivers should be aware that to repackage product into smaller quantities will require additional time by the pharmacy team, however, there are also other formulations that are available and we encourage all caregivers to speak to their pharmacist to determine the best way to access the medication that will be right for their child,” said a statement from communications manager Kendall Franklin.

Read more: COVID-19 hospitalizations continue monthlong rise in Alberta as universities prepare for fall classes

Alberta’s ministry of health said based on what it has heard, the current medication issues are being attributed to COVID infections.

The Omicron BA.5 variant is the dominant strain in Alberta right now, according to Alberta Health data, and it’s more easily spread from person-to-person than previous strains.

Symptoms include a fever, runny nose, coughing, sore throat, headache, muscle pain and fatigue, and Alberta Health Services says taking over-the-counter medications such as Tylenol can help alleviate the discomfort.

“Because of higher-than-expected demand due to COVID cases over the summer, many pharmacies across Alberta and other Canadian provinces are experiencing stock shortages for these over-the-counter products,” ministry communications advisor Mark Feldbusch said in a statement, adding there have been other shortages of these products in the past few years.

The ministry said to the best of its knowledge, the drug shortage is not affecting the supply of acetaminophen or ibuprofen liquid in hospital pharmacies, just those in the community.

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While the Alberta government couldn’t say if there are any allocation plans from the product manufacturers, the Canadian Pharmacists Association said Wednesday the drug makers are ramping up production across Canada.

Read more: What is COVID-19 rebound and when does it happen? Here’s what we know

Editor-in-chief Barry Power said manufacturers are pumping out drugs and supply will level out at some point.

“Facilities are working full-speed ahead. So they are definitely producing. The issue is that the demand has gone up compared to normal,” he said. “The purchasing is going to level out at some point. And as the COVID infections drop, we’ll see things stabilize.”

Tiahlo said she’s getting into the habit of checking the pharmacy aisles every time she’s at the grocery store, because “it’s one of those things once it comes in, it’s going to go just as fast.”

Canadians are being cautioned against making panic purchases.

“We’re asking that people not go out and buy to stockpile because that just makes things worse. There is a constant supply coming into the pharmacies,” Power said.

“What we’re hearing is that there is product coming in. There may be cities or towns where the shortage is worse because of supply chain issues and local demand.”

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The Alberta Pharmacists’ Association also urged people to not buy in excess, so everyone can access what they need, when they need it.

Read more: Some kids’ painkillers in short supply, but pharmacists say prescription not needed

The Alberta College of Pharmacy said it was aware of the growing shortage of over-the-counter children’s pain relievers containing acetaminophen, but wholesale distributor McKesson would be in a better position to address the shortage.

In the meantime, the college said it will continue to monitor the situation to determine it it needs to send additional direction to pharmacies.

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Alberta Health said because the shortage is affecting several parts of Canada, the Provincial/Territorial Drug Shortages Task Team will be looking into the situation over the next few days, and may be able to provide additional information and potential remedies as the situation unfolds.

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Read more: Ontario pharmacies grappling with cold and cough medication shortage

— With files from Aya Al-Hakim, Global News, and The Canadian Press

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