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New supply of children's medication still limited, pharmacist cautions

Canada is importing more children’s medication amid an unprecedented surge in demand, but the head of the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association warns that the supply will still need to be rationed if it’s going to last.

About one million bottles of children’s cold medication has already arrived in Canada and the federal government says another half-million bottles are slated to arrive over the next three weeks, but Justin Bates, CEO of the Ontario Pharmacists’ Association, told Newstalk 580 CFRA that the supply the government secured won’t last through the winter if it’s just left on the shelves.

“If we just put it out on the shelves, people might buy two or three bottles per customer and if that happens, with the tentative supply we do have, it’s not going to last long… it’s weeks of supply, not months,” he said.

Bates is suggesting that the product should remain behind the counter for the time being, to mitigate the risks of stockpiling, panic buying and, in some cases, reselling.

“We should probably put these products behind the counter, which is a bit an inconvenience for patients, but at the very minimum they can talk to the pharmacist and we can ration it one per customer so that we make sure there’s enough to go around for the people that need it.”

Demand has spiked in Canada amid an early flu season combined with the ongoing risk of COVID-19 and another seasonal virus, RSV (respiratory syncytial virus), which has been hitting the emergency rooms of children’s hospitals hard. Ottawa’s flu positivity rate was 23.4 per cent for the week of Nov. 13-19. Bates says Canadian manufacturers, while they have increased production, haven’t been able to keep up.

“We did see an unprecedented spike in demand back in the late summer, approximately 300 per cent over this time last year. The manufacturers here couldn’t keep pace with that, even though they have increased their production by 35 per cent, which is a record,” he said.

On Friday, federal health minister Jean-Yves Duclos said about 1.1 million units were produced domestically in November, adding that production has doubled over the past few weeks.

Ottawa pharmacist and vice president of pharmacy affairs with the Neighbourhood Pharmacy Association of Canada, Dr. Sheli Dattani, told CFRA that medication has been coming in locally, but the new supply won’t replenish all of the stock that they need.

“A lot of pharmacies are keeping them behind the counter and they may have purchase limits, so I would just tell people that it’s out there,” she said, asking customers to be patient. “Definitely think about whether you really need it. Talk to your pharmacist about it and then go to them and they’ll likely give it to you from behind the counter.”

Dattani says she’s encouraged to hear that more supply will be coming in over the next few weeks.

“I think we’re going to see this problem slowly, not as quickly as we’d like, but slowly getting resolved.”