Alberta Premier Danielle Smith says shelves will soon be restocked with children’s pain medication after reaching a tentative agreement with a Turkish manufacturer to supply five million bottles of acetaminophen and ibuprofen.
The deal with Atabay Pharmaceuticals and Fine Chemicals is still subject to approvals from Health Canada but provincial officials are confident the supplier will be green-lighted to ship medications to Alberta in the coming weeks. Shelves across Canada have been stripped bare of the fever-reducing medications, with pharmacists keeping supplies behind the counter to prevent stockpiling.
“I think just about every parent with young ones at home is frustrated and worried about the shortage of children’s over-the-counter medications right now,” Ms. Smith said at a news conference on Tuesday. “It’s distressing to our families and to our health care professionals when symptoms can’t be treated at home.”
Hospitals across the country are overcrowded with sick children battling respiratory viruses, such as influenza, respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, and COVID-19. In Calgary, this surge of viral infections has brought on the temporary closure of a pediatric hospice so staff could be redeployed while Alberta’s two children’s hospitals operate at or above 100 per cent of their normal capacity.
During the media conference, Ms. Smith was asked what steps her government was taking to prevent children’s respiratory illnesses. The Premier said access to fever-reducing medication will lessen the likelihood of hospitalizations.
“Fever is scary for parents,” she said. “That is why we want to make sure parents have access to the medication that they need because if they can’t break the fever, they end up in hospital rooms and that is what’s causing the pressure on our hospitals not just here but across the entire country.”
Steve Buick, press secretary to Health Minister Jason Copping, said in a later statement that the province was competing globally with other buyers to procure the medications. Part of the deal required Alberta to purchase the minimum set by the supplier, which is why the amount greatly exceeds the population of children in the province and there are plans to share supply with other provinces and territories.
Alberta is also paying a “small premium” over the planned retail price, which Mr. Buick said will be disclosed publicly when the deal is finalized.
Mr. Copping said he expects Health Canada approval to come in the next two to three weeks, after which shipments to Alberta from the distributor will take place “very quickly” and across 10 installments. Product will be distributed to hospitals and community and retail pharmacies. He said they are in conversation with Ottawa to fast-track approvals.
A statement provided by the office of federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said more than two million additional bottles of these medicines have been acquired through domestic supply and foreign importation, the majority of which are already in circulation. Another 800,000 units will be distributed this month to Canadians pharmacies and retailers.
Mr. Duclos’s office declined to respond to questions about its relationship with Atabay Pharmaceuticals and its role, in comparison to a provincial government, in ensuring access to the medications across the country.
“As we continue our work to solve the current shortage, we will keep looking to secure additional supply and prioritize the exceptional importation of these medicines,” said the statement. “We will also maintain our regular collaboration with provinces and territories, manufacturers, pharmacists, and pediatric hospitals and associations to ensure all options remain on the table.’’
Health Canada officials said, in a statement, that they have met with the Alberta government to go over the necessary requirements for the medications’ importation, which includes licensing by the importer and compliance with Canada’s safety, quality and efficacy requirements.
Alberta’s Official Opposition New Democratic Party said the procurement of children’s pain-relief medication is a positive step in improving pediatric medicine but more must be done to address the recent surge in respiratory illnesses among children.
Leader Rachel Notley asked Ms. Smith during Question Period whether the United Conservatives would take a stronger stance on encouraging vaccination against the flu.
Ms. Smith repeatedly said on Tuesday there is no vaccine for RSV, but she declined to say anything about other vaccines.
Alberta Health data show 15.3 per cent of children aged between six months and four years have had their flu shots, while the target for that age group is 80 per cent. In total, 135 children under 4 have been hospitalized for flu, one of whom died. A second child between the age of 5 and 9 has also died. The flu vaccination rate for five- to nine-year-olds is 13.6 per cent, while 10- to 14-year-olds have 12.3-per-cent coverage.
On Monday, B.C.’s Health Minister Adrian Dix issued a plea for parents to get their children vaccinated against influenza and Prime Minister Justin Trudeau also urged vaccinations.
With a file from The Canadian Press
Editor’s note: A previous version of this story, citing information provided by the federal Health Minister's office, said the federal government secured two million bottles of children's pain medication, including 800,000 that were sent to pharmacies and retailers. In fact, the 800,000 units sent to pharmacies and retailers this month were in addition to the two million bottles acquired earlier.