As the rates of the flu and COVID-19 rise so does the demand for children’s pain and fever medicines, NewsdayTV's Steve Langford reports. Credit: Newsday/James Carbone; Gary Licker, Kendall Rodriguez

The onslaught of influenza, COVID-19 and other illnesses is driving up demand for children’s pain and fever medicines, leaving many Long Island pharmacy shelves bare and prompting desperate parents to use remedies such as cold compresses to try to bring kids’ temperatures down.

The shortage has been “absolutely terrifying,” said Katie Bifulco, 39, who lives in Commack with her husband, Frank, and their two sons, 1-year-old Vincenzo and 3-year-old Marco. Bilfulco said she spent a month trying to purchase liquid Tylenol in stores and online before finally locating a single bottle on Thursday night at a store in Commack.

The baby is teething and both boys have spent weeks battling viral infections, but she’s rationing the medicine. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to get it again,” she said.

It reminded her of last year’s infant formula shortage, said Bifulco, who works in finance: “You’re afraid that you can’t take care of your child’s basic needs.”

The difficulty finding children’s liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen — the generic names of Tylenol and Advil or Motrin, respectively — comes as families cope with surging rates of children’s illnesses, including RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. And it adds to the distress caused by shortages of the liquid form of the antibiotic amoxicillin and the influenza treatment Tamiflu. President Joe Biden has given New York permission to tap into the state’s stockpile of Tamiflu to address the low supply.

Local pharmacists say they have been searching wholesalers’ websites for scarce quantities of liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen as well as cough syrups, nasal sprays and other over-the-counter medicines for cough and fever. Prescription medicines such as cephalosporins, which treat bacterial infections, and albuterol, an asthma drug, also are hard to find, pharmacists said.

“All of these very common drugs are on back order or short supply,” said Nidhin Mohan, supervising pharmacist at New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park. One third of all calls to the pharmacy lately are from parents, patients and doctors asking if the store has a medication such as liquid Tylenol in stock, he said: “It's kind of a crisis.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports national shortages of liquid amoxicillin and albuterol. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are not included on the agency’s list of shortages, though parents across the country have reported a dearth of those and other drugs on social media and in news reports.

Hospitals typically can get the medications they need or find alternatives, but patients outside of hospitals are having more difficulties, said Lisa Mulloy, chief pharmacy officer at New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health: “The hardest impact is on the community.”

Pediatric illnesses have been rampant, with the emergency department at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park treating 250 to 330 children a day, up from the usual daily volume of about 200 in winter, said Dr. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency physician at the Northwell hospital and medical director of the health care system’s crisis management group.

If parents can’t find liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen, they can use cold compresses or cool showers to help bring children’s fevers down, Harris said. Parents should consult pediatricians before using other medications as substitutes, and they should avoid using aspirin for kids under 18, he said. In many cases, Tamiflu and amoxicillin are not necessary, he added.

If a child is not uncomfortable, it might not be necessary to give any medicine, Harris said: “We'll have kids who are running around, happy as a clam, but they're 102.5 [degrees],” so the parent gives the child medicine to bring down the fever. “That's not necessary,” he said. “I would encourage parents to treat the child and not the number.”

As the shortages continue, manufacturers are working at full capacity to produce children’s pain and fever medications, an industry trade group, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said in a statement. There have been “intermittent” times when the drugs have been out of stock due to the “recent and rapid increase” in children’s illnesses, but there are not widespread national shortages, according to the association.

Parents should buy what they need and not stock up on extras, since that could contribute to shortages, the group said.

Many Long Island parents feel fortunate even to find a single bottle in stock. East Northport resident Jessica Beyer, 36, said her son Brody, 2½, is suffering fever and pain due to a viral illness, and she could not find liquid Tylenol or Motrin at her local CVS. Prices for the drugs on Amazon.com have "skyrocketed," and shipping would be slow, she said. Her husband Keith ended up finding one bottle of each medication at a CVS in Northport and bought the Tylenol, leaving the Motrin behind, she said. “For there not to be sufficient medicine on the shelves to help the children is certainly a concern,” said Beyer, who works in sales. 

A CVS spokeswoman, Mary Gattuso, said in a statement, “We’re currently seeing increased demand for cold, flu and pain relief products.” The chain, she said, is “working with our suppliers to ensure continued access to these items. In the event a local store experiences a temporary product shortage, our teams have a process in place to replenish supply.”

Even so, many families say they still cannot locate children’s medications.

It’s been impossible to find liquid Tylenol in local stores, said Lisa Fox, 36, a social worker who lives in Ronkonkoma with her husband, Walter Lenz, and their sons, two-month-old Freddy and 4-year-old Roman.

The baby recently got through his first inoculations without pain medication, and all she could do when Roman came down with a fever was apply cold compresses, she said. “It's like the 1800s,” Fox said. “We are just trying to make do with whatever we’ve got to make them comfortable.”

With Jamie Herzlich

The onslaught of influenza, COVID-19 and other illnesses is driving up demand for children’s pain and fever medicines, leaving many Long Island pharmacy shelves bare and prompting desperate parents to use remedies such as cold compresses to try to bring kids’ temperatures down.

The shortage has been “absolutely terrifying,” said Katie Bifulco, 39, who lives in Commack with her husband, Frank, and their two sons, 1-year-old Vincenzo and 3-year-old Marco. Bilfulco said she spent a month trying to purchase liquid Tylenol in stores and online before finally locating a single bottle on Thursday night at a store in Commack.

The baby is teething and both boys have spent weeks battling viral infections, but she’s rationing the medicine. “I don’t know when I’ll be able to get it again,” she said.

It reminded her of last year’s infant formula shortage, said Bifulco, who works in finance: “You’re afraid that you can’t take care of your child’s basic needs.”

 WHAT TO KNOW

  • Liquid acetaminophen, ibuprofen and other cold and flu medications are in short supply on Long Island and in other regions.
  • Parents can use cold compresses for fever, and they should consult pediatricians about using other medications.
  • Shoppers should not stock up on multiple bottles, since doing so contributes to shortages, an industry group says.

The difficulty finding children’s liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen — the generic names of Tylenol and Advil or Motrin, respectively — comes as families cope with surging rates of children’s illnesses, including RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus. And it adds to the distress caused by shortages of the liquid form of the antibiotic amoxicillin and the influenza treatment Tamiflu. President Joe Biden has given New York permission to tap into the state’s stockpile of Tamiflu to address the low supply.

Pharmacists searching

Local pharmacists say they have been searching wholesalers’ websites for scarce quantities of liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen as well as cough syrups, nasal sprays and other over-the-counter medicines for cough and fever. Prescription medicines such as cephalosporins, which treat bacterial infections, and albuterol, an asthma drug, also are hard to find, pharmacists said.

Empty shelves at New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park on Thursday.  Pharmacist...

Empty shelves at New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park on Thursday.  Pharmacist Nidhin Mohan says medicine shortages are "kind of a crisis." Credit: James Carbone

“All of these very common drugs are on back order or short supply,” said Nidhin Mohan, supervising pharmacist at New Island Pharmacy in Deer Park. One third of all calls to the pharmacy lately are from parents, patients and doctors asking if the store has a medication such as liquid Tylenol in stock, he said: “It's kind of a crisis.”

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration reports national shortages of liquid amoxicillin and albuterol. Acetaminophen and ibuprofen are not included on the agency’s list of shortages, though parents across the country have reported a dearth of those and other drugs on social media and in news reports.

Hospitals typically can get the medications they need or find alternatives, but patients outside of hospitals are having more difficulties, said Lisa Mulloy, chief pharmacy officer at New Hyde Park-based Northwell Health: “The hardest impact is on the community.”

Pediatric illnesses have been rampant, with the emergency department at Cohen Children’s Medical Center in New Hyde Park treating 250 to 330 children a day, up from the usual daily volume of about 200 in winter, said Dr. Matthew Harris, a pediatric emergency physician at the Northwell hospital and medical director of the health care system’s crisis management group.

Alternatives for parents

If parents can’t find liquid acetaminophen and ibuprofen, they can use cold compresses or cool showers to help bring children’s fevers down, Harris said. Parents should consult pediatricians before using other medications as substitutes, and they should avoid using aspirin for kids under 18, he said. In many cases, Tamiflu and amoxicillin are not necessary, he added.

If a child is not uncomfortable, it might not be necessary to give any medicine, Harris said: “We'll have kids who are running around, happy as a clam, but they're 102.5 [degrees],” so the parent gives the child medicine to bring down the fever. “That's not necessary,” he said. “I would encourage parents to treat the child and not the number.”

As the shortages continue, manufacturers are working at full capacity to produce children’s pain and fever medications, an industry trade group, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, said in a statement. There have been “intermittent” times when the drugs have been out of stock due to the “recent and rapid increase” in children’s illnesses, but there are not widespread national shortages, according to the association.

Parents should buy what they need and not stock up on extras, since that could contribute to shortages, the group said.

Jessica and Keith Beyer with their son Brody. Keith was...

Jessica and Keith Beyer with their son Brody. Keith was able to find one bottle of children's Tylenol when Brody came down with a virus that caused a fever of 103.  Credit: Jessica Beyer

Many Long Island parents feel fortunate even to find a single bottle in stock. East Northport resident Jessica Beyer, 36, said her son Brody, 2½, is suffering fever and pain due to a viral illness, and she could not find liquid Tylenol or Motrin at her local CVS. Prices for the drugs on Amazon.com have "skyrocketed," and shipping would be slow, she said. Her husband Keith ended up finding one bottle of each medication at a CVS in Northport and bought the Tylenol, leaving the Motrin behind, she said. “For there not to be sufficient medicine on the shelves to help the children is certainly a concern,” said Beyer, who works in sales. 

A CVS spokeswoman, Mary Gattuso, said in a statement, “We’re currently seeing increased demand for cold, flu and pain relief products.” The chain, she said, is “working with our suppliers to ensure continued access to these items. In the event a local store experiences a temporary product shortage, our teams have a process in place to replenish supply.”

Even so, many families say they still cannot locate children’s medications.

“It's like the 1800s,” says Ronkonkoma resident Lisa Fox of...

“It's like the 1800s,” says Ronkonkoma resident Lisa Fox of not being able to find medicine for her children, 8-week-old Freddy and 4-year-old Roman. Credit: Gary Licker

It’s been impossible to find liquid Tylenol in local stores, said Lisa Fox, 36, a social worker who lives in Ronkonkoma with her husband, Walter Lenz, and their sons, two-month-old Freddy and 4-year-old Roman.

The baby recently got through his first inoculations without pain medication, and all she could do when Roman came down with a fever was apply cold compresses, she said. “It's like the 1800s,” Fox said. “We are just trying to make do with whatever we’ve got to make them comfortable.”

With Jamie Herzlich

Latest Videos