An additional special shipment of 500,000 units of children’s pain and fever medications will be imported to Canada in the next three weeks as nationwide shortages continue amid a surge in viral illness.
This shipment is in addition to an emergency import of one million units of children’s acetaminophen and ibuprofen that arrived in Canada this week and a doubling of domestic production of these medications among some manufacturers in Canada.
A separate shipment of kids’ pain relievers from Australia is also headed for hospitals.
Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos says a significant rise in demand for these products is to blame for the shortages, noting that normal demand for children’s pain and fever medications in a normal year is about 300,000 to 400,000 units.
In November alone, the company that manufactures children’s Advil in Canada, Haleon, produced 1.1 million units of the product for the Canadian market, Duclos said.
“The aggregate supply [and] importation has been significantly increased over the last few weeks and that’s why people will start to see the difference on pharmacy shelves,” the health minister said during a briefing Friday.
“The issue, obviously, is that the stocks of analgesics have fallen significantly in the last month, starting in the summer… the circulation of respiratory viruses is at a level that hasn’t been seen in many years and is above the expected levels at this time. So demand is very significant.”
The spike in demand comes as Canada is in the throes of its worst cold and flu season on record, with cases of influenza, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and COVID-19 circulating across the country.
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Influenza cases in particular have risen sharply over the last week, with an “unusually high” number of children and teens infected with flu, Canada’s chief medical officer, Dr. Theresa Tam, said Friday.
“There’s a very steep rise and the slope of (influenza) is steeper than what we’ve seen in any past season that I’m aware of,” she said.
Even though the flu season is just starting, the IMPACT network of 12 pediatric hospitals in Canada has reported a sharp increase in flu-associated hospitalizations among children aged 16 years and younger, Tam said.
This has caused a significant increase in pediatric hospitalizations to levels usually not seen until the peak of a normal influenza season, which typically happens between December and January.
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Because of this, Canadians can expect a difficult and prolonged cold and flu season, Tam said.
“Based on past season trends, we could see ongoing high levels of influenza activity for many weeks to come, affecting all age groups.”
Nationally, RSV cases have leveled off somewhat since last week, but it is likely cases of this virus will remain elevated for weeks to come, she added.
And COVID-19 has also continued to infect and hospitalize thousands of Canadians, according to Health Canada data.
Duclos, Tam and Dr. Howard Njoo, deputy chief health officer for Canada, urged Canadians Friday to get their flu shots, to remain up-to-date with COVID-19 vaccines and boosters, and to use additional layers of protection – which they call “vaccine-plus practices.” These include wearing a mask in crowded areas indoors, frequent hand washing, covering coughs and sneezes, and staying home when ill.
In a demonstration of their own advice, both Tam and Njoo did not remove their masks during their in-person briefing in Ottawa Friday.
Duclos, however, did remove his mask when speaking and answering reporters’ questions.
“As long as influenza, RSV, SARS-CoV-2 and other respiratory viruses continue to co-circulate at a high level, there is an increased likelihood that we will encounter one or more of these viruses as we interact with others in schools, workplaces and social settings, especially indoors and if masks are not being worn for the time being,” Tam said.
“It makes sense to dial up on vaccine-plus practices to increase our level of protection, particularly in light of our extremely stretched health systems and the large impact on pediatric hospitals.”
— with a file from The Canadian Press
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