Quebec parents struggle to get children's antibiotics amid nationwide shortage

Samantha Tollstam is struggling to find antiobiotics for her two youngest sons Massi and Mikaël.  (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC - image credit)
Samantha Tollstam is struggling to find antiobiotics for her two youngest sons Massi and Mikaël. (Valeria Cori-Manocchio/CBC - image credit)

Samantha Tollstam's toddlers needed the same antibiotic at the same time, but the odds of finding children's medication in Montreal are against them.

Her sons Massi and Mikaël, ages two and three, have been falling sick repeatedly since they started daycare in September.

"This has been a nightmare," she said. "They were born during [the pandemic] so they weren't introduced to all these bacteria."

Canada is seeing a nationwide shortage of antibiotics and children's pain and fever medication as respiratory illnesses among young patients surge.

Amoxicillin — a first-line antibiotic used to treat bacterial infections in children — is on back-order in Quebec. It's also used in Clavulin, the medication Tollstam's sons need, which is in short supply.

"It's really scary because they're getting fevers and we don't have the medication to control the fever," Tollstam said."If I can't get to a doctor, how am I supposed to diagnose my child or get them the medication that they need?"

Pharmacists in the province have noticed signs of an Amoxicillin shortage since October, says Pierre-Marc Gervais of Quebec's association of pharmacist owners.

"We hope that the production will increase so we can stabilize the supply in Canada, although it's difficult to predict when it will increase," he said.

Gervais says patients don't always require antibiotics right away to treat infections, and amid the shortage, it's especially important to "wait and see."

Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters
Kai Pfaffenbach/Reuters

For example, he says children's ear infections could go away on their own within two to three days.

"If it's only a viral infection, antibiotics are useless," he said. "It's when infections get complicated, when they turn into bacterial infections that we need to use antibiotics to treat the infection."

Dr. Earl Rubin, an infectious diseases specialist at the Montreal Children's Hospital, agrees.

He says longstanding challenges in the health-care network, including extensive wait times at emergencies, are prompting physicians to prescribe medication, even when there is a lack of supplies.

"Physicians have to realize that, with these viruses, the fever is lingering longer than we're used to," he said. "They need to prescribe only when appropriate."

Still unable to get Clavulin, Tollstam says she brought her son to the emergency room after his fever lasted 17 days. She says they waited 16 hours to see a doctor.

"It's really really frustrating," she said. "We have a great country that we live in…. There needs to be a system that makes sense."