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Pharmacists adapting to meet demand for children's cold and flu medications

While pharmacy shelves may not be stocked with children's cold and flu medication as Canada deals with a national shortage, local pharmacists say parents have other options to help their children get the medicine they need.

For months, the children's versions of branded Tylenol and Advil, along with their generic equivalents containing the same drugs of acetaminophen and ibuprofen, respectively, have been challenging to come by.

"We've never seen something like this on this kind of a scale," said Shawn Liu, a pharmacist at Access Pharmacy.

Health Canada says the national supply shortage in children's medication is due to an "unprecedent demand" that started this summer, with manufacturers increasing production.

The federal agency has also recently approved the "exceptional" importation of ibuprofen from the U.S., and is working on securing acetaminophen from Australia.

Another common antibiotic prescribed by pharmacists to help sick young children, amoxicillin, is in short supply as the country faces a surge in respiratory illnesses, including respiratory syncytial virus (RSV).


Liu said that unusual surge caught many suppliers off guard, with many still struggling to catch up with pent-up demand.

"Our shelves have been sitting empty for at least the past two months," Liu said. "We have been checking our warehouse every day without any luck."

"It's really hard to say when they will be available again," he added. "At least until the surge in respiratory virus starts to decline, that might be late spring or early summer."

It's forced his pharmacy and others to adapt since so many concerned parents have been seeking alternative options for safe anti-fever medications for young children.


Many are now relying on compounded medications, formulations prepared by special pharmacies when a prescription from a physician or other authorized prescription is obtained.

"It's pretty much the exact same thing that you would find over the counter with the children's Advil and Tylenol," explained Michelle Tang, a prescribing pharmacist at PharmaSave Southgate. "We flavour it, especially for kids."

"We've been working with our compounding pharmacy to get this product in," Tang said. "We want to help parents manage (their children's) symptoms right away and quickly."

A local company is helping connect pharmacists and parents looking for compounded medication during the supply shortage.

Morenike Olaosebikan, a pharmacist with more than a decade of experience, founded Kemnet and adapted the growing platform to help in Alberta, Ontario and Saskatchewan.

To order using the online tool, a person must either have a prescription or enter their contact information to have a qualified prescriber contact them to confirm the compounded drugs are right for their situation and symptoms.

"We made it really easy," Olaosebikan told CTV News Edmonton. "You just go on there, and you place a request with the closest pharmacist to you, or if you are not able to find one that is close to you, whichever one makes sense to you."

She says the service has seen a steady stream of requests as parents try to help their kids cope.

"It's more than usual," Olaosebikan said. "I am really thankful to be of service in this way and to see other pharmacists with good intentions support families in our communities."


Another option for parents is simply to speak with their pharmacist, who can help prepare certain adult versions of cold medication at toddler or kid-friendly doses.

While some parents may find information about dosages online, Liu cautions them from trying to make their own without checking with an expert.

While some products labelled as cold and sinus medication for adults can be crushed or adjusted for children, he says not all are safe or recommended for toddlers.

"I encourage all parents to speak to a pharmacist first before making your own Tylenol or Advil (for your kids)," Liu said.

"We want to help families," Tang echoed. "We want to help prevent children and infants from going to the hospital. With everything going on, we just want to be there for them."

"Just ask," she added.

With files from CTV News Atlantic's Heidi Petracek and CTV Top Stories

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