Influenza and other diseases are causing demand for children’s medicines to skyrocket

Influenza and other diseases are causing demand for children’s medicines to skyrocket

  • US News
  • December 9, 2022
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As flu season approached, Antonieta Garcia knew it was time to stock up on cough suppressants and fever reducers. But this year she often goes into a store and only finds empty shelves.

The 44-year-old mother of two from East Los Angeles is trying to keep a well-stocked medicine cabinet because her 2-year-old is immunocompromised and her 12-year-old has asthma. A cold or flu could mean a visit to an emergency room, and with a rise in respiratory illnesses driving demand for pediatric medicine, Garcia says she feels like she’s fighting a war on all fronts.

“As soon as the RSV [respiratory syncytial virus] and flu season started, that’s when I saw that there was hardly any cough medicine, hardly any Tylenol or ibuprofen,” she said. “I don’t want to exaggerate, but I’ve decided I need to stock up.”

As COVID-19, flu and RSV cases in children rise, drugmakers and retailers say rising demand — not a lack of supply — is driving empty shelves. And stockpiling by parents worried they can’t find medicine when they need it could make the problem worse.

Across the country, pharmacies working to quickly replenish supplies are struggling to keep up, reflecting shortages of toilet paper, hand sanitizer and some medicines in the early stages of the pandemic.

Some parents who have struggled with these shortages worry about how long shelves will remain empty. Garcia said she now begins every trip to Target or the grocery store by the drug aisle.

“It’s hard,” she said. “If you can’t find it [medicine]then I have to end up in the hospital.”

Johnson & Johnson, the maker of Tylenol, said its manufacturing facilities run 24 hours a day and that there is no shortage of its products in the United States.

“We continue to experience high consumer demand,” the company said in a statement. “We’re doing everything we can to ensure people have access to the products they need, including maximizing our manufacturing capacity and running our sites 24 hours a day, seven days a week.”

Parents’ difficulty finding over-the-counter cold medicine is due to a surge on the demand side, not supply-side problems, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Assn. said.

“Manufacturers are producing at full capacity and directing product inventory to where it is needed most,” the association said in a statement. “However, we understand that it can be frustrating for parents to quickly locate these products at their usual pharmacy or retailer due to intermittent stock shortages. Parents may need to make a few stops to find what they need and should also consider additional self-catering alternatives.

“We wish to further emphasize the importance of responsible purchasing practices,” the statement continued. “Media coverage of this issue could prompt parents to stock up if product shortages are perceived or feared – which could eventually lead to widespread supply shortages for US consumers.”

With demand soaring in recent weeks, doctors and pharmacists are ready to offer alternatives to treat infections or relieve pain and fever in children, retailers said.

“Similar to others in the industry, we are seeing restrictions on Tylenol for children due to issues in the ingredient supply chain and increased demand,” a Rite Aid spokesman said in a statement. “When a customer arrives at a store and finds that we don’t have a product they are looking for, our pharmacists are here to provide recommendations for equivalent products and alternative treatment options.”

A CVS spokesman said the chain is working with suppliers and has a replenishment process in place if “a local store experiences a temporary product shortage.”

Walgreens was “able to meet customer needs,” despite increased demand, a spokesman said, and teams have worked throughout the year to prepare and forecast demand.

Rebecca Schenker first noticed the empty shelves at the end of November.

Her two children became ill during Thanksgiving week and had fevers up to 103 degrees, she said.

She had medicines ready, but when she tried to refill the children’s Tylenol her children had been draining during their illness, she saw that she couldn’t order any online.

“You can’t buy it or pick it up or order it in store or anything,” she said. “No name brand, no generic brand, nothing.”

With the flu, RSV and COVID-19 on the rise, Schenker said she wanted to make sure she was ready if anyone in her home got sick. She chose chewable ibuprofen for her children.

“If my kids get sick in the next few weeks, I want to make sure it’s on hand,” she said. “Everyone I know is dealing with these mega colds or the flu or whatever.”

California flu cases have reached levels not seen in years. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, seasonal influenza activity is high and continues to rise across the country. As of this week, 14 pediatric flu deaths have been reported statewide this season, including one in Los Angeles County.

Since early October, the Los Angeles County Department of Health has seen a significant increase in the percentage of samples testing positive for influenza.

The county’s flu positivity rate for the week ended November 19 was over 25%, and flu-like illness accounted for more than 12% of all emergency room visits. Both numbers were an increase from the previous week.

Pneumonia, influenza and COVID-19 also accounted for 11% of all deaths in the county this week — also up from the previous week.

Health officials have also noted that the number of coronavirus cases in LA County has been rising steadily, sending more people to hospitals and raising the possibility that indoor mask requirements could go into effect by January. For the week ended Thursday, the county reported an average of 3,780 new cases per day, or about 262 new cases per 100,000 people.

A rate of 100 or more cases per 100,000 population is considered high.

Amid the rise of diseases, the difficulty of finding drugs like Tylenol hasn’t just hit stores in the US. In Canada, government officials issued emergency orders allowing drugs containing paracetamol and ibuprofen to be imported from the US and Australia, Wall Street Magazine reported.

In addition, the American Academy of Pediatrics has said shortages of liquid amoxicillin — an antibiotic used to treat pneumonia, bronchitis, and infections in the ears, nose, and throat — are likely to last for months.

In response to the shortage of antibiotics and over-the-counter medicines, officials have noted that there are potential substitutes for parents.

Schenker, who also cares for an elderly relative, said she has medicine ready for her children but is worried about what the empty shelves mean.

“If you can’t find cold medicine for your kids, that means all the kids are sick,” she said. “I tell my friends make sure you have supplies for now. But maybe buy one or two so other parents can buy some too.”

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