‘Tripledemic’ Forces Pharmacies to Limit Purchases of Children’s Pain Relievers

As a “tripledemic” of respiratory illnesses takes hold, some pharmacies in the United States have placed limits on the number of some over-the-counter medicines customers can purchase to soothe their symptoms.

Spikes in cases of the flu, respiratory syncytial virus, or R.S.V., and Covid-19 led to a 65 percent increase in the sales of pediatric pain and fever relievers in November compared with last November, according to the Consumer Healthcare Products Association, which represents many of the companies that manufacture the drugs.

With images of empty shelves of children’s cold medicine emerging across the country, CVS has imposed a two-product limit on all purchases of children’s pain relievers at stores and through its website in an effort “to ensure equitable access for all of our customers,” the pharmacy said in a statement emailed to The New York Times on Tuesday. It added: “We’re committed to meeting our customers’ needs and are working with our suppliers to ensure continued access to these items.”

Walgreens limited online purchases to six fever-reducing products per order but is not limiting in-store purchases, the company said. Kroger is limiting its customers to purchasing two pediatric pain medications and four cold and flu items. Rite Aid does not have purchasing limits on the medicines in stores but is restricting online purchases of 4 oz. grape-flavored Children’s Tylenol to five units per customer.

R.S.V. has made so many young children sick this fall that weekly pediatric hospitalizations for the illness are the highest recorded. The flu, which normally peaks in February, arrived two months early and has driven up hospitalization rates to the highest level for this time of year in more than a decade. Covid cases are lower than they were in the last two Decembers, but those numbers are also climbing.

In a statement on Monday, the Consumer Healthcare Products Association said the demand for pediatric pain and fever relievers was “unprecedented” but cautioned against declaring a “widespread shortage.”

“We understand why some retailers have adjusted to impose limits on purchases. This prevents ‘stock-ups’ and ensures the availability of these products to as many consumers as possible,” it said. “While C.H.P.A. member companies are running manufacturing facilities 24-7 to meet demand, we will continue to encourage consumers to buy only what they need, so other families can find and purchase the medicines they are seeking.”

Christine Hauser contributed reporting.

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