Child and infant pain relievers empty shelves
Shelves for child and infant pain relievers at a New York area CVS are bare

Pain and fever relievers for infants and children continue to see shortages nationwide, as the “tripledemic” of Covid, respiratory syncytial virus (RSV) and flu has driven demand for such medications sky-high.

“In case you’re keeping track at home, the latest basic necessity that you can’t find in any store anywhere is children’s tylenol or motrin,” Christina Wallace, a Harvard professor, wrote on Twitter on Saturday. “Like, good luck with teething and daycare bugs, let alone flu, COVID, RSV, and any other winter viruses coming our way.

The shortage has been building since July, but has become especially acute as the winter wears on. Limits on purchases led to complete absence of stock, and some price-gouging online, on eBay for example.

“Nothing in pharmacies or grocery stores,” Wallace added. “Amazon back ordered until early feb. Walmart totally out. Found 2 bottles at but had to order a sweater since they would only ship a $35 min order. (Not free shipping mind you, they literally wouldn’t ship them.)”

Hoarding is blamed

Dr. Uche Blackstock, a physician and founder of the company Advancing Health Equity to combat racism in healthcare, wrote on Twitter that the problem was caused in part by hoarding. She said manufacturers are saying there is no shortage.

“Yes, more children are getting sick now because COVID public health measures have been dropped, however more parents & caregivers are buying up even more medication supply than they actually need,” she wrote. “We need to make sure our neighbors have enough medications for their families too.”

Walgreen’s was out of stock online, as was CVS on Saturday afternoon. But on eBay, you could bid a two-pack of 4-ounce Tylenol, normally $6.99 a bottle, for $27 or “buy it now” for $36.

The New York Times reported Dec. 20 that major chain stores were imposing limits on purchases.

CVS put a two-product limit on all purchases of children’s pain relievers at stores and through its website, The Times reported.

Children's tylenol pack of two

“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,” The Times said. “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.”

Despite limits, shortage gets worse

One woman Tweeted: “I just went to 4 different stores and I can’t find childrens tylenol or motrin anywhere.”

Another wrote on Dec. 30, “Hubby went to 10 stores in Fort Worth and no children’s Motrin or Tylenol.”

Another wrote on Dec. 22: “If you are someone who uses childrens Tylenol or Motrin, if you find some in the store any time soon, GRAB IT. I just spent the whole day and a tank of gas trying to find Tylenol for my kid with a 103 temp during a national shortage I didn’t realize we were having.”

Another wrote on Dec. 28: “WTH is going on in Ohio? You can find over the counter Tylenol or Motrin for kids or adults. Pharmacist told me to call my dr” … “because they have emergency reserves. Order date on mail delivery is January 22nd.”

What you can do

One mother in my village just outside New York City posted on Facebook that she had asked her pediatrician to prescribe a pain reliever — the same thing she would have purchased over the counter, but in prescription form — and that she got her prescription immediately.

Another parent pointed out that children’s and infant’s Tylenol is the same, but the dosage is different — so if you need infant’s Tylenol, you can get children’s but use a smaller dosage. Parents were also trading tips about using adult Tylenol or Motrin, in liquid or crushed pill form, with a greatly reduced dose. (Check with your doctor, of course.)

Parents also mentioned suppositories rather than oral medicine.

One woman said she asked a friend in a warm-weather state to buy some and ship it to her.

Another woman wrote, “I found some Children’s Motrin behind the counter at a deli in the Bronx. I mention that just because the deli is one frequented by Fordham University kids, so not a ton of people with children going in there. “

A New York man tweeted: “In NYC & needed to get kids Tylenol/Motrin for my youngest. Found it on Uber eats. Sweet big baby jesus this shortage is dumb.”

Wallace said she was indeed able to order online but she had to add a sweater to an order to reach the $35 minimum for shipping.

Blackstock pointed out that generic Tylenol and Motrin can also be used. She added: “Consider all of the self-care options and alternatives to aid comfort and relief, including non-pharmaceutical strategies like cold compresses to provide comfort, certain drinks & refreshments to help replenish fluids and electrolytes, rest & relaxation to minimize exertion.”

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...