The US is reeling from a tampon shortage, leaving users with fewer menstrual product options as supplies dwindle nationwide, consumers and advocates say.
This shortage is precariously timed, coming as the price of menstrual products has recently surged, advocates also said.
“I can share that our organization has distributed over 2m period care products during 2021 and access to products has increasingly worsened over the past year,” Laurie Rovin, interim CEO of The Period Project, an organization that provides menstrual products to persons in need, said in an email. “We are having challenges ordering in bulk, and when we attempt to order retail, the limit is five boxes per order.”
In August 2021, when Rovin became The Period Project’s interim leader, the organization’s cost per “period pack” was $5.86. The pack, which includes tampons, pads, liners and wipes, now costs the organization $10 and is “rapidly rising”, Rovin said.
The tampon shortage marks the second time in several months where many women and other persons with uteruses weren’t able to find another basic necessity on store shelves: there has also been a shortage of baby formula.
Additionally, the tampon shortage is unfolding as many in the country brace for limits on access to abortion and a spate of reproductive health services, should the US supreme court reverse Roe v Wade this summer as expected.
It’s unclear how the shortage is affecting smaller and independent retailers. A spokesperson at the National Community Pharmacists Association said that several member pharmacies had not experienced supply issues nor had problems with their distributors.
But Rovin is not the only advocate who has seen diminishing supplies.
“We have definitely seen a decline in the number of tampon donations over the last few months,” Lysne Tait, executive director of the non-profit Helping Women Period, which provides no-cost menstrual products to those in need, said in an email. “I have heard from people we distribute to that they are having difficulty finding specific brands that they are used to using. Especially non-applicator tampons like o.b.”
Elise Joy, the executive director and co-founder of Girls Helping Girls. Period., an organization which distributes menstrual products to community organizations such as food pantries, has also seen the shortage unfold.
“For the first time, I’m having multiple organizations that do what I do reaching out to me to see if I can help them cover their clients, and I’ve also had new agencies reach out to me asking for help because the resources that they had have dried up,” Joy said. “It’s not uncommon for me to have a new agency reach out, and it’s not uncommon for other organizations who do what I do to reach out occasionally, but it’s very consistent [now].
“Multiple times a week, we’re getting calls to help – which is more than normal.”
CVS and Walgreens, two major US pharmacy chains, confirmed that some tampons have been out of stock at some stores. Both said they’re working with suppliers to ensure adequate stock.
“In recent weeks, there have been instances when suppliers haven’t been able to fulfill the full quantities of orders placed,” a statement from CVS said. “If a local store is temporarily out of specific products, we work to replenish those items as quickly as possible.”
A statement from Walgreens said that “similar to other retailers, we are experiencing some temporary brand-specific tampon shortages in certain geographies”.
The statement added: “While we will continue to have products at shelf and online, it may only be in specific brands while we navigate the supply disruption.”
Edgewell, a major personal hygiene producer, said that Covid-related staffing challenges in late 2021 and early 2022 contributed to supply issues. But the company also said it is taking steps “to build back inventory”.
“To meet demand that has existed throughout the pandemic, we have continuously operated the production facility in which our feminine care products, including Playtex and o.b. tampons and Carefree and Stayfree liners and pads, are manufactured,” Edgewell’s statement said. “Production, and therefore inventory, of these products was [affected] due to extensive workforce shortages caused by two separate Omicron surges.
“We have been operating our manufacturing facilities around the clock to build back inventory and anticipate returning to normal levels in the coming weeks.”
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