Jan 6, 2023 - News

Why we (still) can't find any children's Tylenol

Illustration of four hands reaching for the same pill.

Illustration: Shoshana Gordon/Axios

Children's medications remain out of stock in several Houston-area pharmacies, frustrating parents amid a national shortage of children's Tylenol and Motrin during the "tripledemic."

Driving the news: How did some of the most common pediatric fever and pain remedies become as scarce as Taylor Swift tickets? Unlike last year's baby formula shortage, it's not because of a broken supply chain, but the result of unexpectedly high consumer demand, writes Axios' Tina Reed.

What they're saying: "What is happening is the earliest and most severe flu season in a decade. Then you add in RSV on top of that, and COVID," said Anita Brikman, a spokesperson for the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents major manufacturers including Johnson & Johnson, which makes children's Tylenol and Motrin.

Zoom in: Several of the Kroger, CVS and Walgreens pharmacies in the Houston area were out of most children's medicines — including children's Tylenol and generic brands of acetaminophen.

  • A CVS store manager said she expected a shipment to come this week with more supply, but they've been out of stock or low on supply for weeks.
Photo of empty medicine shelves.
The children's medicine selection at CVS was bare. Photo: Shafaq Patel/Axios

Meanwhile, children's hospitals have been seeing an unprecedented surge in urgent care and emergency room patients who "weren't very sick" because families feared the respiratory viruses, said Stanley Spinner, chief medical officer and vice president of Texas Children's Pediatrics.

Of note: Children over 3 months tend to tolerate fevers, which often aren't harmful to the child, according to Spinner.

  • Doctors recommend sticking to tried-and-true basics: put cool water on your child's forehead, reduce the temperature of their room and give them small amounts of fluid regularly to keep them hydrated, said William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Be smart: Because the shortages are temporary, experts suggest casting a wide net in affected areas, including big box stores, wholesalers and discount chains, where they might not typically think to look.

  • Spinner said to look at generic and alternative brands and talk to the pharmacists for other medicines that have the key ingredients of acetaminophen or ibuprofen.
  • However, don't try to make your own concoctions with adult pills. Spinner also does not recommend buying combination products for cough, cold and congestion.

What to watch: RSV has been on the decline since November, local and Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data shows. Similarly, the last few CDC reports about the flu show the outbreak has peaked in most areas.

Yes, but: COVID is on the rise again, and there are other illnesses beyond the big three spreading among kids.


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