Skip to main content

'Unprecedented demand' behind shortage of children’s cold, flu medications: Health Canada


Children's cold and flu medications remain hard to find on pharmacy shelves, at a time when families are in need of them most.

Kuriakose Jose was recently overseas when friends in Canada called him about the shortage. So, when he returned, he brought a supply of children’s pain reliever for his one-year old, and for others as well.

“They asked me to bring some from India,” says Jose. “So, when I came back, I brought some extra Tylenol in case I need it, as well as for my friends too.”

Krysta Hartlen Côté is parent to a two-year-old with complex medical needs, who often relies on children's over the counter medications.

“It certainly helps with all the cold and flus that have been going around, but also we use it on a regular basis for other things,” she says.

Hartlen Côté says she’s mindful of the shortage, and only keeps one bottle on hand at home. Her search to replenish it begins when that starts to run out.

“We have (to) start looking around, calling around to different grocery stores, the pharmacy, dropping in, and ask family and friends to keep an eye out for what we need as well,” she says.

Pharmacist Greg Richard of Boyd’s Pharmacy in Halifax says the supply has been scarce from his wholesale supplier for several months.

“We don't really know how long it's going to be going on for,” he says. “We’ve been getting some bottles in semi-regularly in now, just one or two at a time, so I know they’re allocating them throughout the province from the wholesaler.”

Richard recommends parents and caregivers ask for alternatives when shelves are bare, and encourages buying only what's needed.

“Maybe having cough and cold products isn't actually appropriate for that child and there's other options that may be more appropriate,” says Richard.

In a statement to CTV News, Health Canada says the supply is limited because of an “unprecedented demand” that started this summer.

It says manufacturers have increased production, with “some producing at record levels.”

The department says it recently approved the “exceptional” importation of ibuprofen from the United States, and is working on doing the same for acetaminophen from Australia, to supply hospitals.

Health Canada is also working on doing the same for community pharmacies and consumers, it adds, although no timeline was given for when that would happen.

In the meantime, visits to the IWK children's hospital emergency department have skyrocketed amidst what the interim department head has described as an early surge in respiratory viruses among kids.

“And normally, for a lot of parents, they would give Advil and they would see how they (the child) would look,” says Dr. Katie Gardner.

Without being able to give that medication, she says, “they have no way to gauge whether they're doing okay, and we're seeing that kind of end result (at the emergency department).”

In a statement, a spokesperson for Nova Scotia’s Department of Health and Wellness says it’s working on easing the pressure on the IWK.

“…the Department of Health and Wellness in collaboration with the IWK and Nova Scotia Health is actively working on ways to address staffing shortages and relieve pressures on emergency departments. We are also taking steps to introduce new ways to deliver care that will help stabilize services in communities across the province,” writes Khalehla Perrault.

IWK pediatrician Joanna Holland has advice for families struggling with sick children at home.

“For toddlers, kids older than one, they may be able to have adult medications crushed,” she says. “But in terms of specifics, I would advise families to ask their pharmacist for help with that in terms of exact dosing, and they would need to know the child’s weight.”

Dr. Holland says whether a child is experiencing COVID-19, RSV, a cold, or the flu, fever alone is typically only concerning in young infants under three months of age.

“The reasons with these viral respiratory illnesses that children need medical treatment or need to be admitted to hospital are usually either that they’re dehydrated, so they need help with fluids,” she says. “Or because they're really having a lot of trouble with their breathing, and needing some help with their breathing.”

Dr. Holland says it’s important to keep sick kids hydrated, and monitor for worsening symptoms.

She adds prevention is also key, through up-to-date vaccinations, hand-washing, and wearing masks in crowded areas. Top Stories

Stay Connected