As many parents scramble to find medication for their children while respiratory viruses wreak havoc among kids in Alberta, the provincial government announced Alberta Health Services has secured a shipment of five million bottles of children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
At a news conference on Tuesday, Premier Danielle Smith said the province is working with AHS and Health Canada surrounding the logistics when it comes to importing the medicine. It’s something Health Minister Jason Copping said should take about two to three weeks.
“When our kids are sick, we will do whatever it takes to help them,” Copping said. “And quite frankly, as a parent… I know how helpless you can feel when your child isn’t feeling well, and how you want to do everything in your power to make them feel better.”
Copping said when the medicine is made available for parents to purchase, it will be at the average retail price to ensure stores cannot engage in price gouging.
“This announcement could not have come soon enough for the many parents currently seeking pain and fever relief for their children, nor could it have come soon enough for community pharmacists that have certainly struggled to help the parents and patients,” said Margaret Wing, the CEO of the Alberta Pharmacists’ Association.
The federal government also imported one-million units of children’s acetaminophen — commonly known as Tylenol — across the country late last month.
Health Canada has distributed the children’s Tylenol to retailers and has also sent children’s ibuprofen — commonly known as Advil — to hospitals.
“The province of Alberta reached out to Health Canada indicating its interest in procuring and importing foreign authorized acetaminophen and ibuprofen products for hospitals, community pharmacies and retail locations,” Health Canada said in a statement issued to Global News on Tuesday afternoon.
“Health Canada has met with the province of Alberta and provided information on the steps required for exceptional importation of foreign products.”
The federal department said for any “exceptionally imported product” to be authorized, it requires proof that it meets certain manufacturing standards and safety requirements in addition to meeting other criteria.
”We share the concerns of parents and caregivers about their inability to find infant and children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen,” federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said in a statement.
“As of today, there has been a total of over two million additional bottles of these medicines through increased domestic supply and foreign importation.”
Wing added that the current supply hasn’t been adequate to meet the demand being seen across the province’s 6,000-some pharmacies – most of which have been compounding adult doses for the children’s needs along with prescribing alternative medicine in the meantime.
Though Smith never directly answered the question from a reporter when asked what preventive measures her government is taking to try and prevent children from contracting preventable diseases, she said, “Sadly there isn’t a vaccine for RSV” and that people need to know when their child gets sick they’ll have the medication readily available so they can treat their children at home.
“This is really serious if they can’t get acetaminophen to bring the fever down,” Smith said, adding that by securing this shipment, her government is being proactive.
Alberta’s new chief medical officer of health Dr. Mark Joffe was not at Tuesday’s news conference. He has not been seen at a news conference since Nov. 16 — just two days after he was appointed.
Smith addressed Joffe not being present at Tuesday’s news conference when asked about him.
“The chief medical officer of health had nothing to do with this announcement,” she said, noting AHS is responsible for procuring the medicine.
Smith was also asked what the province is doing to address the need for antibiotics with pharmacies slowly losing their supply and a dwindling amount of material that is needed to compound the medicine.
She said the supplier that the province is getting the children’s medicine from is a generic supplier. She added that Alberta has the potential to get a range of other medicines to fill in the gaps, but did not give a timeline as to when that would take place.
Good, but not good enough: NDP
The official Opposition to the United Conservative Party said it is pleased more medicine has been acquired for sick kids in the province, but it is still not enough to help those in need.
The Alberta NDP’s children’s services critic Rakhi Pancholi and health critic David Shepherd sent out a joint statement after the news conference.
“This is a positive step in improving pediatric medicine in Alberta,” Shepherd said.
“Unfortunately, the wait times, trailers and redeployment of hospice staff at the Alberta Children’s Hospital are simply unacceptable. The children’s health-care system is in crisis, and yet the UCP have repeatedly blocked our requests to debate the crisis and refused to debate legislation that would help end the chaos.”
Both Shepherd and Pancholi called on the UCP health minister to act swiftly on the recommendations purposed by the NDP regarding the current health-care crisis. Those include implementing an emergency action plan along with providing relief to Alberta parents dealing with sick kids.
Doctor at children’s hospital welcomes news that more medicine is coming
Samina Ali, a pediatric emergency doctor at Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital who is also a professor of pediatrics at the University of Alberta, said she was pleased to hear of the children’s pain medicine that will be coming to the province.
“Symptom management is so important,” she said. “We need those medications and that shortage has been very difficult for families.
“When a child is having a fever, the fever itself is not dangerous, but if they stop drinking, sleeping and eating because of it, then we absolutely need to manage it and acetaminophen and ibuprofen are our number one drug choices to help children with those symptoms.”
Ali said the Stollery remains “extremely busy” with high wait times.
“A lot of the children are there because they have prolonged fever or trouble breathing, and that’s why their parents are bringing them in,” she said. “(We have) very, very high volumes still of respiratory illnesses… a lot of RSV in our little babies and a lot of influenza in our school-aged children.”
In a statement to Global News, AHS said to accommodate the high number of patients at the Stollery, the health authority has taken action in a number of ways.
“For example, a Stollery unit that had temporarily been utilized for adult care has been returned to pediatric care,” AHS spokesperson Kerry Williamson said in an email. “Six beds were opened last Friday, and we will be increasing that to 13 beds in the coming weeks.
“This is the kind of realignment we’ve done as needed across the system in various forms throughout the (COVID-19) pandemic.”
Williamson added that some physicians are working extra shifts to help address the demand for care.
“We deeply appreciate the hard work of staff and physicians in recent weeks and throughout the last few years,” he said. “The Stollery pediatric ICU is at about 100 per cent capacity. We do have the ability to add additional beds if required.
“We strongly encourage families to seek care from their family physicians for influenza-like illnesses, unless the sickness is urgent or severe. Families are also encouraged to visit the HEAL (Health Education and Learning) website for reliable information about common minor illness in children.”
—with files from The Canadian Press