High demand keeping cold and flu medicine off shelves amid shortage

Published Jan. 10, 2023 10:31 a.m. ET
Updated Jan. 10, 2023 12:28 p.m. ET

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Amid a season of high rates of flu, respiratory, and COVID-19 infections, pharmacies across Canada are reporting a shortage of cold and flu medicine that one expert says is being made worse by high demand.

Health Canada confirmed the shortage following a rapid poll conducted in December by the Canadian Pharmacists Association that found 25 per cent of pharmacies had no supply of adult cold and flu medicines, and 62 per cent had minimal supply.

The association’s Chief Pharmacist Officer Daneille Paes explains, while pharmacies continue to receive stock of adult pain reliever medication, the ongoing shortage is driven by high demand amid increased activity of viral infections.

"The stock is coming in, it's just not staying on the shelves and so we're continuing to find challenges as we navigate these unprecedented times where buyers' activities are just circulating at high rates," Paes told CTV's Your Morning on Tuesday.

High demand is not unexpected at this time of year, Paes explains, as many Canadians typically get sick during the holiday season.

The nationwide shortage comes on the heels of a months-long shortage of children's pain medication in Canada, too. While extra shipments of children's pain medication were sent to Canada in the fall, Paes says demand increased earlier than usual, because of the nature of the flu season this year.

"We can take this as an opportunity to realize that virus season is unpredictable. Normally during the downtime or during those lulls is when manufacturers build up their stock and we didn't get a chance to do that because it started so early this year," she said.

Canada had an unprecedented flu season that quickly shifted into an epidemic as cases of influenza skyrocketed, mixing with an influx of RSV and COVID-19 infections. At its peak, Canada's FluWatch reported more than 8,000 cases of influenza, especially among young Canadians aged 0-19.

Since then, Infection rates have gone down by 58 per cent, according to the latest FluWatch report, however Paes says Canadians need to continue to practice health measures like washing their hands and staying home when sick to avoid any further spread.

For those who are currently sick with a cold, Paes recommends only purchasing the medication they need or consulting with a pharmacist to try alternative medications or treatments if there isn't any combination cold and flu medication available.

"Depending on what your symptoms are, you might be able to find an alternative product to help give you a little bit of comfort while you get better," she said. "It takes about seven to 10 days to clear a viral infection, so during that time just give your body the rest and hydration it needs to heal." 

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