Parents and pediatricians bemoan drug shortages as respiratory illnesses add stress to Thanksgiving

HOPKINS, Minn. — There may not be a shortage of food this Thanksgiving, but there is a shortage of essential medicines to help children fight off the flu and infections.

The Food and Drug Administration’s latest guidelines to pharmacies confirm a nationwide shortage of amoxicillin, the fast-acting, great-tasting antibiotic kids actually love to help treat bacterial infections. According to the FDA, several vendors cite “increased drug demand” as a key factor behind the backup.

“We might ask you to teach your child to swallow a pill to get him the antibiotic he needs,” said Dr. Ashley Strobel, pediatrician and emergency specialist at Hennepin Healthcare. “We will choose second, third, or even fourth line antibiotics if your child has a penicillin allergy.”

Strobel earlier this week appeared alongside several colleagues from health systems across the state to warn of how childhood respiratory diseases invade clinics and hospitals.

“If your child is vaccinated, a fever day is okay. A fever does not kill a child. Fever is the body’s way of beating an illness,” she said. “If your child has a fever over 100.4 for five consecutive days, we want to see them in the emergency room.”

The FDA also issued guidelines this week for pharmacies on how to potentially compound liquid amoxicillin from adult tablets, which are in sufficient supply.

In Canada, meanwhile, a nationwide shortage of children’s painkillers is sending Canadian families across the border to places like Buffalo, New York and even International Falls. A pharmacist there told WCCO, “I’ve never seen anything like it.”

A bottle of amoxicillin sits on a desk with a bottle of penicillin and a pre-pen

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“It was really hard”

If Thanksgiving during the COVID-19 pandemic has helped us be grateful for the health of the elderly, this year’s holiday puts more emphasis on children.

“Worse than COVID,” said Josh Zamansky, whose 2-year-old daughter battled RSV earlier this month. “It’s awful. They can’t tell you exactly what’s wrong. As a parent, you are afraid that your child will suffer and suffer.”

Medical experts say common respiratory illnesses in children – such as respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and influenza – are causing congestion in emergency care, clinics and emergency departments. School districts also report high rates of absenteeism.

“Our pediatrician’s office sent a note pretty much saying they had extended hours, but unless it’s extremely serious, they can’t see the kids,” Zamansky said. “I wouldn’t say I’m frustrated. It’s the system and the timing and the world we live in. I’m grateful we’re not trying to get in right now.”

Doctors note that most cases of RSV are mild and cause cold-like symptoms, including congestion and a cough. Medical experts offer these tips to ease the burden on hospital emergency rooms:

* Stay home if you or your family are sick.

* Wash your hands often.

* Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue or shirt sleeve, not your hands.

* Clean frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs and mobile devices.

* Avoid close contact with sick people.

* Mask if applicable.

* Stay up to date on flu shots and COVID-19 reminders.

* Consider emergency care, a primary health care provider, or telehealth options for non-emergency care.

* Have a primary care provider for your whole family and stay connected and up to date with preventative care so the primary care team can partner with you on any health issues.

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