More than one million bottles of children’s pain reliever medication will arrive in Canada beginning next week, the federal government said in an update on drug shortages that have plagued the country.
Chief Medical Adviser Dr. Supriya Sharma told reporters Friday that Health Canada is exploring “all levers” at its disposal to remedy the situation and understands this is a “very challenging” situation for parents and health-care providers.
“While drug shortages continue to make headlines, we are working tirelessly behind the scenes to end the shortages. It’ll take time, but things will get better as we start to see the results of increased production of Canadian acetaminophen and ibuprofen products supplemented by the flow of foreign products coming into the country,” she said.
The supply will be given to hospitals, community pharmacies and retailers and begin appearing on store shelves by early next week, said Sharma. The products included in the newly procured supply include liquid ibuprofen and liquid acetaminophen for children.
Drug shortages in Canada began as early as last spring, CTVNews.ca has reported. There are hundreds of medications that are either running low or are now entirely out of stock, and the problem extends beyond children’s medication.
Three major viruses circulating now — RSV, influenza and COVID-19 – are leading to packed hospitals and overcrowded pediatric ICU units, particularly in Ontario.
Health Canada has been meeting with stakeholders, including manufacturers, retailers, and health professionals on a weekly basis to “share information and strategies,” said Sharma.
She also said that proposals for supply are also being assessed and all proposals received will be reviewed to ensure it meets Health Canada’s standards around efficacy and safety. There have been three approved proposals so far to import foreign medication and supply is now entering the country.
OTTAWA UNDER PRESSURE TO RESOLVE SHORTAGE
There are 800 drugs that are in short supply, and 23 that are critically low levels, according to the agency.
In the midst of the several illnesses circulating, Ottawa has been under increased pressure in recent weeks from provinces and the federal opposition to take action on the medication shortages. The Conservatives have been urging the feds to to allow the sale of foreign-language label medications.
Health Canada said this week that as it pertains to the incoming supply, “all information related to cautions and warnings, dosing directions, ingredients, and other important details will be made available in both English and French to ensure parents and caregivers clearly understand what medication they are using and how to give to their children.”
Since the importing of medications began, hospitals are now seeing a “quite stable” supply of children’s pain reliever medication as products that have been imported have already been provided, Sharma told reporters. Bilingual labeling for products has not slowed access, she said.
When asked why Health Canada didn’t take action earlier in the year to import medication when the shortages were appearing starting in the spring, Sharma said there was first consultation with community and stakeholders to understand demand and issues.
Manufacturers believed ramping up supply could help meet demand, which seemed to mitigate the issue earlier in the year. But by late summer, the government had to consider importation as demand increased, she said.
Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, said at Friday’s press conference that COVID-19 remains circulating across the country and that RSV levels are above what are expected for this time of year.
RSV and influenza are “having a large impact on children”, said Tam. While hospitals are seeing high admissions related to those illnesses, a vaccine is not available. Getting kids vaccinated with shots that are available, like the flu and COVID-19 shot, is important, she explained.
Tam also said wearing a mask and washing hands, along with staying home when sick is critical
“One of the biggest challenges of having multiple respiratory viruses circulating at the same time is the large and sudden surge of illnesses that could overwhelm the health system,” she said.
Jen Belcher, an Ottawa-based pharmacist and the vice president of strategic initiatives and member relations at the Ontario Pharmacist Association, told CTV’s Your Morning on Friday that there are fears the shortages could continue for months.
“Commonly used antibiotics for chest-infections, ear-infections….that’s been a real challenge for parents [to find] as they navigate the respiratory virus season with very few options,” she said.
The reasons for the shortages are “complex”, that include a combination of demand, interruptions to the supply chain, and manufacturing disruptions, she said, suggesting that drug manufacturing needs to be prioritized moving forward.
Many shelves at pharmacies have been left bare, running out of children’s allergy medication, children’s pain relievers, and now adult cough and cold syrup, eye drops and some oral antibiotics, according to industry experts.
Multiple pharmacists across Canada have said the issue is only continuing to worsen.
With files from The Canadian Press, CTV News Toronto, CTV News Kitchener, and CTV News Senior Digital Parliamentary Reporter Rachel Aiello