Parents likely don’t need to worry about stocking up on children’s pain relief medicine this winter, industry experts say.
The Canadian Pharmacists Association (CPA) and Food, Health and Consumer Products of Canada (FHCP) confirmed with Global News that last year’s major shortage has been resolved, and the risk of shortages is “minimal.”
Gerry Harrington, senior vice president for consumer health at the FHCP, says the organization has collaborated with Health Canada and manufacturers to ensure demand for kids’ pain medicine is met this year.
“We reacted strongly, as did Health Canada, but we think it was the appropriate response. And oversupply is a much easier problem to deal with and undersupply,” Harrington told Global News.
Harrington said FHCP also worked with other stakeholders such as hospital systems and provincial health authorities to keep production levels high.
“The companies that manufacture these products have been operating with really elevated production levels now for… well since last year. And the companies are doing that simply because after the experience of last year, we want to ensure that we don’t run up against that kind of situation.”
Starting last summer, infant and children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen products were flying off the shelves at retail outlets, pharmacies and hospitals across Canada.
At the time, Health Canada said the shortage was due to unprecedented demand, as pediatricians noted an unusually early rise in viral illnesses over the spring and summer months in 2022. The winter was dubbed as a “tripledemic” between COVID-19, RSV and the flu.
Last November, manufacturers increased production by 30 per cent in order to meet the skyrocketing demand for children’s cold and flu medicine. The federal government also ordered more than one million bottles from other countries.
Harrington described last year’s shortage as “the perfect storm.”
As an effort to control the rising demand in August of last year, SickKids hospital started asking for a prescription for some children’s pain medications.
But the move was misconstrued by community members, Harrington says, causing many parents to go out and buy as many supplies as they could for their kids. At that point in the year, the so-called tripledemic was only getting started.
“In the course of about two weeks, we not only cleared all the shelves in pharmacies across Canada, but also distribution centres. The entire supply chain was emptied out. So we spent the next few months fighting not only the tripledemic, but at the same time trying to replenish stocks in the supply chain” Harrington said.
“None of those factors are in play this year, so I think the risk of any kind of shortages is minimal.”
Shortages of antibiotics, particularly amoxicillin, were also reported throughout Canada last year. Similarly, the antibiotics shortage was the result of an overwhelming demand driven by a surge in respiratory illnesses, particularly among children.
Barry Power is the editor-in-chief and acting chief pharmacist officer for the Canadian Pharmacists Association. He says that while pharmacies are currently able to meet demand for children’s antibiotics, he is “cautiously optimistic” that it will remain that way this winter due to a global shortage of a key ingredient used to make the suspensions.
“We’re in a good spot, but that could change if there were to be a spike in demand,” Power told Global News.
Health Canada did not reply to Global News’ request to comment by publication time, but said in a report this week that it continues to work with partners to ensure there is enough supply of children’s pain medicine this year.
Harrington says the struggle to meet demand for medication last year helped the FHCP, Health Canada, hospital systems, manufactures, pharmacies and distributors all become more coordinated so a shortage of that scale doesn’t happen again.
“I think we’ve got better early warning systems in place, and I think that will take the risk that much further down,” he said.
“But of course, it’s always possible that we could encounter another epidemic that could put some strain on the system. The key is, I think we’re in a better position.”
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