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“Tripledemic” Causing Shortages of Children’s Medications

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University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children'sExperts in Children's Health
A woman reaching for a packet of medicine next to glass of water on her nightstand

A wave of viral illnesses sweeping the nation has caused shortages of a number of over-the-counter and prescription medications for sick children.

In some U.S. locations, parents have had difficulty finding children’s Tylenol and Motrin (acetaminophen and ibuprofen). Liquid formulations of the pain and fever medications in particular are hard to come by in some places.

Supply shortages of liquid formulations of pain and fever relievers are being felt in Northeast Ohio, says Jacalyn Rogers, PharmD, University Hospitals’ senior director of Pharmacy Services.

Pharmacies everywhere are also seeing shortages of the antibiotic amoxicillin, a first-line treatment for bacterial ear infections and other common illnesses in children.

A Tripledemic: Flu, COVID and RSV

Three respiratory viruses – flu, COVID-19 and respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) – have caused unprecedented demand for many medications. Called a “tripledemic,” the surge of the three viruses at once has swamped hospitals and healthcare providers.

RSV is known to affect young children particularly hard. An unusually high number of infections this year has pushed many pediatric hospitals to capacity. In addition, other respiratory viruses such as rhinoviruses – the cause of most common colds – are also circulating.

Other medications in short supply include Tamiflu, an anti-viral medication to treat flu and Albuterol, inhalant to treat respiratory conditions such as asthma.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents manufacturers of over-the-counter (OTC) drugs, said in a statement that manufacturers of children’s pain reliever products are operating at full capacity to meet demand in places where inventory is low.

“We understand it might be frustrating for parents to quickly locate these products from their usual pharmacy or retailer due to intermittent out-of-stocks,” the statement said.

“Parents may have to make a few stops to find what they need and should also consider additional self-care alternatives to aid comfort and relief at the direction of their healthcare provider.”

Tips For Dealing With Drug Shortages

  • Make sure children are vaccinated against COVID-19 and flu (There is no vaccine for RSV).
  • Look for generic brands of pain and fever relievers.
  • For children 2 and older, substitute chewable pain and fever relievers for liquid products. Older kids can be taught how to swallow pills.
  • A fever doesn’t always require medication. If a child has a moderate fever and they are behaving normally, acetaminophen and ibuprofen may not be necessary.
  • Don’t give aspirin to children with flu-like symptoms, as it may trigger Reye’s syndrome, a rare disorder that can cause brain and liver inflammation.
  • Talk with your children’s doctor about alternatives to amoxicillin, such as cephalexin and clindamycin.

Related Links

University Hospitals Rainbow Babies & Children’s has the region’s largest coordinated network of pediatric primary care providers, committed to delivering the very best care to children of all ages, including routine immunizations. Find a UH Rainbow pediatric practice near you.

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