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Pharmacies are limiting sales of kids’ pain and fever medicine

A pharmacist wears a mask.
A pharmacist fills prescriptions at a CVS pharmacy inside a Target store in the Tenleytown area of Washington. CVS has begun restricting shoppers to two children’s pain-relief products each for in-store and online purchases.
(Carolyn Kaster / Associated Press)
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CVS Health and Walgreens Boots Alliance, two of the largest U.S. pharmacy chains, are limiting purchases of children’s pain-relief medicines amid constrained supplies and high demand.

CVS is restricting shoppers to two products each for in-store and online purchases. Walgreens is limiting online orders to six products and isn’t setting limits for in-store purchases. Walmart isn’t placing any purchase limits, while Kroger said it is asking shoppers to limit purchases to two children’s pain medicine products. Rite Aid isn’t limiting purchases.

“Due to increased demand and various supplier challenges, over-the-counter pediatric fever-reducing products are seeing constraint across the country,” Walgreens said in an email without offering more details on the supplier challenges.

Pediatric medicines containing acetaminophen and ibuprofen, which relieve pain and reduce fever, have been hard to come by across the U.S. and Canada since at least October as respiratory viruses spread. Rates of hospitalization for respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and influenza have reached heights not seen in recent years. The drugs don’t kill the viruses, but they do relieve symptoms.

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More U.S. children had been hospitalized in 2022 for influenza as of Dec. 10 than in any other year since 2009, according to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. RSV hospitalizations are the highest since 2018, when the agency began tracking it.

With COVID-19, flu and RSV cases rising, drugmakers and retailers say soaring demand is leading to empty shelves.

On Oct. 7, Canadian health authorities posted a notice online alerting the public that children’s formulations of both types of drugs were limited because of high demand. “Over the summer months, there was unprecedented demand for these products and supply had not kept pace,” Health Canada said in a statement.

The Consumer Healthcare Products Assn., a U.S. organization that represents companies that make the medicines, said the scarcity “is a direct result of the recent and rapid increase in demand driven by a rise in pediatric cases of respiratory illnesses including the flu, COVID, and RSV.”

A CVS location in downtown Boston had a sign posted Monday morning informing shoppers of the two-item limit. The only children’s acetaminophen or ibuprofen product on the shelf was a 12-pack of store-brand acetaminophen suppositories.

A spokesperson for Johnson & Johnson, which manufactures Motrin and Tylenol, said that the children’s version of those medicines “may be less readily available at some stores.”

Haleon, which sells Advil, a product made with ibuprofen, declined to comment, referring to the Consumer Healthcare Products Assn.


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