Children's medicine shortage strains healthcare system

Every parent knows that this time of year is rough when it comes to kids getting sick (best not to think about what sort of germs are floating around the typical classroom), but this cold and flu season is shaping up to be historically bad. 

Driving the news: Parents are taking desperate measures to get care and medicine for their kids as a spike in respiratory viruses overwhelms pediatric hospitals and supply chains for common medications break down.

  • Retailers on Amazon are taking advantage of the shortage to price gouge, selling packs of children’s Advil for up to $300.
  • Some parents are driving hours across the border to buy medication from US pharmacies, where the supply is more plentiful.

The shortage of over-the-counter cold and flu medication adds more pressure to already-strained hospitals, as parents bring their kids to emergency rooms with symptoms they could usually deal with at home.

  • Ontario has run out of pediatric critical care beds, and the emergency room at Montreal Children’s Hospital is at 200% capacity.

Why it’s happening: Like any shortage, there’s too much demand and not enough supply.

  • An early flu season and surge of respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) cases have driven up demand for medicine and care. Because of pandemic health restrictions, fewer toddlers were exposed to viruses in recent years—now, they’re getting sick all at once.
  • But the supply side is also a problem: As far back as the spring, some drug manufacturers said they were experiencing shortages of raw materials and labour, and it can take months for companies to increase production when demand spikes.

What’s next: Health Canada authorized emergency imports of drugs from the US and Australia for hospitals but hasn’t offered any timeline on when you can expect to be able to buy children’s Tylenol and Advil at your local drug store.