How ‘triple illness’ restricts the supply of cold and flu medicine – and what to do if you’re infected

This was winter One of the worst ever for the NHS. Ambulance and ER wait times are at an all-time high, and many are struggling to access emergency treatment.

Patients are now reporting difficulties accessing some of the over-the-counter medications used to treat colds and flu Pharmacies and retail outlets. While the shortage of medicines was common phenomenon In previous years, they were often the result of supply chain issues due to global events, such as the pandemic or Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. But these are not the same reasons people report when experiencing shortages in over-the-counter and prescription products.


Many countries, incl United kingdomthe we And CanadaThey are said to be in the midst of a “triple epidemic” this winter – meaning they are experiencing higher cases than expected Corona virus diseaseand influenza and rsv At the same time.

In England alone, it is estimated 1 in 25 people are currently infected with COVID. Flu cases are also on the rise, with hospitalizations at their highest level since Winter 2017-18. Besides, there was an outbreak as well streptococci a and seasonal diseases.

Since this viral infection causes symptoms such as fever, cough, and sore throat, many people turn to over-the-counter medications to treat it. Some may also make proactive purchases in case of illness.

In Canada, pharmacists are reporting empty shelves, with shortages of cold and flu medicines for children and adults. And concerns about shortages can lead to this Stockpiling and panic buying. in the United States, Some pharmacies It decided to limit sales due to increased demand by capping the number of certain medications people could use simultaneous purchase.

In the UK, its popular pain and fever products are said to be Low stock availabilityand there is also Lack of cough mixtures and aids.

Not enough stock?

UK manufacturers said so Stock is available They are working to respond to higher than usual demand. In Canada, pharmacies receive supplies, but sell out stocks approx Once it hits the shelves. Many people are finding it difficult to get the medicines they need – with some places running out of stock completely.

some thought Insufficient government planning may explain Stock shortage in the UK. But again, there is no clear evidence for this.

The early onset of the seasonal flu caused problems in Canada, as the manufacturers did not have enough time for this Build a base stock in the summer And an increase in seasonal diseases, which led to a high demand for the product. In early January 2023, the Canadian government announced that it was aware of this Supply restrictions It is a product used to treat cold and flu symptoms. Likewise, the UK government has confirmed that it is aware of this Availability issues For some brand-name cold and flu medicines.

Image of an empty pharmacy shelf, with a sign indicating that supply chain problems have led to shortages of cold and flu medicines.
Supply chain issues may be one of the reasons for shortages in some countries.

There is also a possibility that the stock may not be evenly distributed. Some pharmacies may have more stock than others, and can help support areas with low stock. Multi-site pharmacies They will know what stock levels are in their stores Stock can be moved between locations. The UK government has said there are availability issues with some brand name cold and flu medicines provisional and localizedAnd they are working with suppliers to investigate it.

Another issue that may feed into supply issues is the forecast used to inform inventory production. If the inventory forecast for winter 2022-23 is based on prior years’ utilization numbers, it may be skewed. during a pandemic, Many preventive measures (Like wearing masks) protects us from common germs and viruses too, and reduces levels of disease and Reducing the demand for cold and flu treatments. In light of this, manufacturing quantities may have been adjusted to avoid wasting stock, without knowing that an early surge of seasonal illnesses would occur this year.

What can you do

If you develop symptoms of a cold or flu, you should seek advice on treatment from your pharmacist and, where needed, from your doctor or healthcare provider.

If you’re finding it hard to get your usual over-the-counter cold and flu products, you may want to try alternatives — including generic (non-branded) products. For example, if you Having trouble finding products like Lemsip For controlling cold and flu symptoms, paracetamol and vitamin C are great alternatives as they are often the main ingredients in cold and flu products. The same is true for throat lozenges, with many alternatives on offer.

If a single formulation of the product is not available, your pharmacist may be able to recommend an alternative form – eg substituting Calpol Children’s Syrup for Calpol dissolve-in-oral tablets (depending on age appropriate).

COVID and flu vaccines are still recommended to prevent dangerous viruses, so people are encouraged to get them as soon as possible. While the perfect time to book Influenza vaccine in the fall or early winterbefore the flu starts circulating, will still provide protection if you catch it now.

The UK’s Health Security Agency has warned that winter illnesses include influenza, coronavirus, RSV and streptococcus bacteria. Spread at high levels With no immediate sign of abating. If you are among the millions of people currently suffering from one of these diseases, talk to your pharmacist to find out what treatment options are available to you.

Medicines shortages have occurred in the UK for many years – and will continue to do so. But current shortages of cold and flu products show escalating issues with UK drug supply chains, making it clear that weaknesses in the system need to be urgently addressed.

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