“We want that comfort and relief for our children and it’s scary to not have that in your toolkit”
Like many Ottawa parents, Melanie Raymond relies on social media and word of mouth to find children’s pain and medication these days amid an ongoing, nationwide shortage and a surging tide of cold and flu-like illnesses.
“It’s not impossible to find, it’s just very challenging to find. And when you have sick kids, you don’t feel like running around town looking for Tylenol,” said Raymond, 38, a mother of two children: Alice, almost four, and four-month-old Billy.
“It’s kind of like the toilet paper of 2022. There is panic buying, for sure,” she said.
Across the country, parents have been dealing with a shortage of children’s Tylenol and other pain and fever medication since early summer.
The Ontario Pharmacists Association says the shortage has been caused by a combination of factors: supply chain issues, heightened demand and consumer hoarding.
“It probably won’t rectify until mid to late fall, so it will be another month or so before we see shelves replenished,” said Justin Bates, the association’s chief executive officer.
Bates said manufacturers have ramped up production to ease the shortage but it will take time for the effects of that work to be recognizable.
“It’s not something they can turn around overnight,” he said.
Ottawa pharmacist Jennifer Mulley, the owner of the Shoppers Drug Mart in Old Ottawa South, said the store has experienced a shortage of children’s Motrin, Advil and Tylenol for months.
“There’s definitely a supply shortage, and once customers hear of a shortage, they also overbuy,” she said.
Last week, the store received a shipment of 12 bottles of children’s Tylenol, which sold out within a couple of hours, she said.
Mulley said the supply shortage also extends to other products, such as Polysporin antibiotic eye drops used in the treatment of conjunctivitis — a common childhood ailment also known as pink eye.
“It’s not just cough and cold; there are a lot of shortages, which is so frustrating for parents,” she said.
The unmasked return to school — after two years of distanced learning — appears to have helped propel this year’s flu and cold season, which comes on top of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
CHEO is on track to record its busiest September in history, said spokesperson Paddy Moore. “We’re seeing 60 per cent more cold and flu-like symptoms than last September. It’s a potpourri of everything,” he said.
The hospital has advised parents to come prepared for an hours-long wait in the emergency department with snacks, toys and blankets.
Moore said the hospital’s pharmacy has the ability to mix pain medication for children so it’s unaffected by the broader shortage of supply.
The Ontario Pharmacists Association has recommended pharmacies impose a limit on the purchase of children’s pain medication packages to discourage hoarding. It also notes that parents can speak to pharmacists about potential options if there are no suitable children’s pain meds available on store shelves.
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On its website, the maker of children’s Tylenol said its Canadian manufacturing plant is now operating 24 hours a day, seven days a week in an attempt to relieve the shortage of products.
For Melanie Raymond, the end of the children’s medication supply shortage cannot come soon enough. Her four-month-old has just started teething, while her daughter Alice has already been sick twice since starting junior kindergarten earlier this month.
“Half her life she has been masked up so she didn’t get a chance to be exposed to viruses before,” Raymond said. “I think that’s a big reason why we’re seeing so many sick kids, and so many parents needing the medication.”
Last month, Raymond gave away all of her remaining infants’ Tylenol drops to a friend whose baby had COVID-19.
“We want that comfort and relief for our children and it’s scary to not have that in your toolkit,” she said.
Raymond said she has relied on friends and family to check pharmacy shelves whenever they go to a store. She also trades information about availability on social media with other parents.
“If you look at the shelves for all kids’ medication, they’re bare. It’s eerie almost,” she said. “No one likes to be in a situation where you have no children’s medicine in your house.”