Scarcity of cold and flu medications at some Ontario pharmacies

Pharmacists are reporting increased demand for cold and flu medications as Ontario navigates a sixth wave of the COVID-19 pandemic.

That makes some drugs harder to find, said Jen Belcher, a pharmacist at Loyalist Pharmacy in Amherstview, Ont.

“We’re struggling to restock our shelves,” she said.

Add cold, flu and allergy season to that, and it’s a perfect storm for bare or near-empty shelves, said Belcher, who also represents the Ontario Pharmacists Association.

More illnesses overwhelm demand for cold medicine

Jen Belcher of the Ontario Pharmacists Association says they are seeing more and more people seeking treatment for several different upper respiratory tract infections. 0:47

Since the lifting of the March 21 mask mandatesshe said pharmacies across the province are seeing a spike in people “seeking to treat the symptoms of upper respiratory infections, whether from COVID-19, the flu or the common cold.”

A number of drugs are out of stock, Belcher said, and while some should be back in stock in the coming weeks, those dates are tentative and subject to change.

Belcher said the masking requirement was put in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19, but also limited the spread of colds and flu.

Be ‘extremely careful’ with children

Medicines for children and remedies treating stuffy noses, coughs and sore throats are the most sought after, Belcher said.

But she warns parents to avoid giving children drugs intended for adults if their usual remedies are not available.

If someone has symptoms, they should assume it is COVID.— Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth

“Children aren’t just little adults,” Belcher said.

“Parents should exercise extreme caution and ensure they consult their provider before doing anything to treat any of these symptoms with something they are not used to. ‘utilize.”

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth, an Ottawa physician, echoed Belcher’s concerns about giving children cold medicine.

Dr. Nili Kaplan-Myrth is pictured at her clinic, Common Ground Collaborative Care, in Ottawa on November 11, 2021. (Sean Kilpatrick/The Canadian Press)

“These are sedating drugs. They are not safe for children. They can decrease the respiratory rate of children,” she said.

“That means it can be more difficult for a child to breathe.”

Kaplan-Myrth said the low supply of over-the-counter drugs is evidence of the disease spreading in the community.

“But it’s also a sign that people don’t know that children shouldn’t use cold medicine,” Kaplan-Myrth said.

Let’s assume it’s COVID

The Ottawa doctor recommends medications, such as Tyenol and Advil, to help ease COVID symptoms.

“If someone has symptoms, they should assume it’s COVID, not something else, not another cold…and stay home,” she said.

Ontario’s top doctor said Monday the province won’t reinstate mandatory masking, but if a concerning new variant emerges, the mandate could return.

The province also announced that it will be expansion access to COVID-19 antiviral treatments for those at high risk.

Paxlovid, an antiviral medicine for the treatment of COVID-19 manufactured by Pfizer, is for adults who have mild to moderate symptoms of COVID-19 within the first few days of infection and who are at high risk of deteriorating into a serious illness requiring hospitalization. The drug is in pill form, taken twice a day for five days.

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