'Shelves were bare': Parents share what it's like to struggle with children's Tylenol, antibiotics shortages

Tylenol shortage is leaving store shelves empty.
With shortages of children's Tylenol across the U.S., some parents are reporting finding empty shelves at drugstores. (Photo: Getty Images)

The past few years have been particularly challenging for parents, who have faced — among many other things — a global pandemic that forced them to work from home while caring for their children, followed by shortages in formula and child care options. Now there's another hurdle parents have to grapple with: nationwide shortages of children's Tylenol and certain antibiotics, just as cases of the flu, COVID-19 and RSV are surging.

It's important to note that acetaminophen (aka Tylenol) has not made the Food and Drug Administration's official list of shortages. However, reports are pouring in from around the country of parents struggling to find children's Tylenol and its generic forms — and plenty have photos of bare shelves to prove it.

The FDA is, however, reporting a shortage of the antibiotic amoxicillin in its oral powder form, which is mixed with a suspension to create a liquid children can swallow. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) has released a statement about the shortage, noting that it is "anticipated to last several months." The AAP recommends that doctors prescribe amoxicillin tablets, capsules or chew tabs for kids who are able to use them, noting that tablets can be split or crushed to mix with any liquid or semi-solid, such as applesauce, as needed. The AAP also offered alternatives to amoxicillin for select health conditions.

"It's so upsetting and frustrating for everybody. The physicians prescribing these medications are just as frustrated as the families that can't access them," Dr. Danelle Fisher, pediatrician and chair of pediatrics at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, Calif., tells Yahoo Life.

The shortage of Tylenol is likely due to people wanting to stock up as cases of RSV, flu and COVID-19 soar, say experts. "All of these respiratory diseases have resulted in an extreme influx of patients getting sick — more rapidly than we've ever seen," Dr. Paulette Grocki, director of pharmacy services at Connecticut Children's Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. "People are going to stores and stocking up, and it's a simple case of demand exceeding supply." The antibiotic shortage seems to be linked to secondary bacterial infections happening after kids get these viral illnesses, coupled with pandemic-related supply chain shortages, Fisher says.

But whatever the reason, parents are left dealing with these shortfalls. One is Maryland mom Jillian Amodio, who struggled to find children's Tylenol when her 7- and 11-year-old kids had the flu. "Shelves were bare," she tells Yahoo Life. "I went to several different pharmacies and no one had it. The pharmacists were apologetic and felt terrible for the kids who were not getting the medication they needed, but there was nothing they could do."

Amodio says she felt "helpless and like I was failing my children" when she couldn't find Tylenol. "I went through everything in my house and, fortunately, found the emergency bottle I keep in my travel bag, which was still half full," she says. "I also taught my oldest to swallow pills to be able to take the adult version." Amodio says she even recruited friends who also had sick children for help. "Every time any of us went to any store, we would grab what we could find and share it," she says. "Together, we were able to provide for our children collectively by looking out for one another."

Executive life coach and Alabama mom Christina Garrett had trouble finding medication when her husband and four of her five children contracted the flu during the Thanksgiving holiday. "While most of them recovered at the normal rate, my 4-year-old son, Levi, was down for almost two weeks," she tells Yahoo Life. "His fever would spike extremely high, then go down, only to shoot back up again. When we went to multiple stores, I was shocked. Where was the Tylenol? The pain, cold and flu meds had been ransacked, almost as though everyone in the neighborhood needed them."

Garrett ended up locating ibuprofen and used that instead, but eventually took Levi to the doctor, where he was diagnosed with an ear infection. "She went to prescribe the normal antibiotics, but they were out of stock," she says. "Unfortunately, we had to settle on another type that had diarrhea as a side effect." While it wasn't easy, Garrett says, her family "made it to the other side and Levi is healthy again."

Family travel blogger Ashley Flores, who lives in New York, tells Yahoo Life that she struggled to find her go-to medication when her 9-year-old recently had a migraine. "My oldest daughter gets frequent migraines and they impact her everyday life significantly," she explains. "I usually give her Tylenol whenever her episode gets stronger; otherwise we try using cold packs and make sure she takes breaks from bright lights." Flores says her daughter was sent home from school with a "very bad migraine" a few weeks ago. "When we got home, we tried our usual methods, but nothing was working," she says, noting that her daughter's migraine "got significantly worse."

"I realized we ran out of Tylenol, so we rushed to the pharmacy right away," she says. "Unfortunately, they ran out of it that day. It was tough as a mom watching my daughter having a hard time with the pain." Flores ended up trying the only other anti-inflammatory medication she could find, which was "an off-brand ibuprofen." Flores says she was "hesitant at first, but it was our only option at the time." Luckily, she says, it did help.

Utah dad Ryan Romeike says his 6-year-old son tested positive for both strep throat and the flu after Thanksgiving. "Since the pediatrician was concerned about medication interactions with antivirals and antibiotics, she opted to primarily treat the strep, which can be quite dangerous if left untreated in children and older people," he tells Yahoo Life. "The primary choice for treatment is usually a penicillin-based antibiotic like amoxicillin, but apparently it is in short supply."

Romeike's pediatrician "was already aware of the shortages of finding amoxicillin in local pharmacies," so she prescribed an alternative, cephalexin. Romeike says his son showed "marked improvement" within 48 hours, and he treated the boy's flu symptoms with some children's Tylenol that he was able to find. "My son and I lost my wife of 12 years to COVID in 2021, so I’m definitely on edge about keeping us safe and healthy," Romeike says.

If you can't find a medication that your child needs, Grocki recommends talking to your local pharmacist and pediatrician for help. "Pharmacies are getting new supplies every day," she explains. You can also try nonpharmacy sources for Tylenol, such as grocery stores and your local dollar store, since people typically don't go there for the medication first, Fisher says. "Just call around first to make sure you're not driving around," she advises.

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