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Antibiotic Shortage, Empty Cold Medicine Shelves Stress Los Angeles Parents

The cold and flu relief aisle at a Rite Aid in Beverly Hills. There are six shelves with bottles and boxes of medication and about four of them are half empty.
The cold and flu relief aisle at a Rite Aid in Beverly Hills.
(Ryanne Mena
For LAist)
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As children's respiratory illnesses spike, pharmacies are experiencing shortages in the commonly prescribed antibiotic amoxicillin, as well as basic cold and flu medicines.

A trio of viruses (COVID-19, flu, RSV) are taking charge this winter, with RSV sending young children and babies to hospitals. The high rates of respiratory illnesses are depleting pharmacies of over-the-counter cold and flu medicines, like fever reducers and pain relievers.

Claudia Rivas is a mother of two in Southgate, and both her children got sick last week. Her son was diagnosed with RSV; his medication was available right away. But Rivas had trouble finding amoxicillin for her daughter’s ear infection, and her local pharmacy’s shelves were empty.

“There's no Tylenol, there's no Motrin, there's no Advil, there's nothing,” Rivas said.

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It took several days to fill her daughter’s prescription and a 10-mile drive to find the right over-the-counter drugs.

A worker at a Beverly Hills Rite Aid told LAist that twice-weekly cold and flu medicine shipments fly off the shelves. “There’s no way we can keep up with this,” he said.

The federal Food and Drug Administration alerted pharmacies in late November to prepare for a nationwide shortage of amoxicillin, commonly found in antibiotics. Several L.A.-area pharmacies are having trouble stocking the medication.

“We’re working with manufacturers to replenish supply as quickly as possible,” reads a CVS statement. “In the event an individual CVS Pharmacy store is temporarily out-of-stock, our pharmacy teams assist patients in locating the product at other nearby locations and work with prescribers to determine potential alternatives.”

An LAist check of Amazon found that medications like children's Tylenol, Dimetapp, and NyQuil could take up to a week to deliver. Large stores like Target and Walmart show where over-the-counter medications are available for same-day pickup, although many stores have limited, if any, supplies.

Amoxicillin is typically found in liquid form used to treat children for bacterial infections like bronchitis or pneumonia, though it’s not quite as effective in treating the common cold or the flu. There are alternatives to amoxicillin, says UCLA Health pediatrician Anu Seshadri, but what’s most concerning is the shortages in fever reducers like Motrin and Tylenol.

“It's very hard to find a substitute for a fever reducer,” Seshadri said.

Seshadri said it’s a matter of good hygienic practices to ward off illnesses, and she urged people to wear masks to protect themselves this winter.

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