An Arizona update on baby formula shortage
By Michelle Talsma Everson | Digital Free Press
It’s been months since it started, but the ongoing formula shortage is still impacting Valley families with infants and toddlers and the organizations that provide services to them.
The shortage began with pandemic-related supply chain issues, but really ramped up when Abbott Nutrition shut down a formula-making plant. This series of events sparked a nationwide shortage.
Recently, the President Joe Biden announced a plan to address the issue, which includes bolstering supply, cutting red tape to help import formula and other supply chain issues, and helping low-income families, among other steps.
While these steps will take time, many local experts note that Valley families are still in need of help and access to nutritional formula for their little ones.
When it started & how it’s going
“In October 2021, the Arizona WIC Program, administered out of the Arizona Department of Health Services (ADHS), was notified by Abbott Nutrition that a few products were low in stock,” recalls Tom Herrmann, public information officer for ADHS.
“In February 2022 — when the recall was announced — there was a much bigger problem with having formula in stock and it impacted multiple formulas, both Abbott and non-Abbott formulas. This has been very hard on families as they try to find formulas. In addition, the WIC staff have put in extra time including nights and weekends to assist WIC families during the formula shortage. It has been stressful on all families who use trying formula to feed their children,” Mr. Herrmann said.
“In approximately the beginning of April, we noticed we were not getting our normal deliveries of formula,” adds Mary Luster, senior clinical director of pediatrics/PICU/NICU at HonorHealth Scottsdale Shea Medical Center. “We had sporadic deliveries for about a month and then the shortage really impacted us. We had difficulty getting our most basic formulas. We reached out to our formula provider and were then told about the factory closure and subsequent shortages.”— Mary Luster, RN
Medical experts and those from organizations that serve Valley families note that low-income families have been hit hard by formula shortages.
“In addition to the obvious nutritional concerns for babies, the shortage puts an unbelievable amount of stress on the parents and other caregivers,” says Liz Barker Alvarez, chief policy advisor at First Things First.
“Low-income families may lack the financial resources, transportation, social connections, etc., that it can take to find and follow up on alternatives,” she said. “For example, you may hear that a supermarket or food bank across town has formula, but you may not have a car – or sufficient gas money – to make that trip only to find that the store has sold out. This can be especially true in rural communities.”
Ms. Luster explains families with babies in medical care, the shortage can have very serious concerns and consequences for all in involved.
“The shortage for our families is devastating,” Ms. Luster says about parents with babies in the NICU.
“Imagine the stress of having a premature infant in the NICU and then add to that the need for specialty formula that you cannot locate. Lower income families do not have the resources to run to multiple stores looking for formula. It places undo stress on mothers who have made a choice or can’t breast feed. It makes them feel very guilty.”
The Arizona WIC Program serves participants who are pregnant, breastfeeding, postpartum, and infants and children under the age of 5 who are at or below 185 percent of the federal poverty guidelines, and is funded by USDA, Mr. Herrmann explains. The USDA requires state agencies to have an infant formula contract for standard infant formulas, medical formulas are excluded.
Abbott and USDA have provided the Arizona WIC Program with some flexibility to temporarily provide non-Similac formulas when they are not available in the store. Due to the temporary flexibility, the Arizona WIC Program can provide standard infant formulas without a medical provider’s prescription. Medical formulas still require a prescription from a medical provider.
“WIC and non-WIC families have had to drive to multiple locations to find the formula their infant needs or have had to switch to a comparable formula,” Mr. Herrmann says. “More standard formulas are available at retailers than there have been in the last few months,” he adds, noting that hope may be on the horizon.
Resources for families in need of formula
“Be patient and flexible. If the formula you normally purchase isn’t available, look for alternatives in powder, ready-to-feed, and concentrate forms. There are options for feeding most babies in Arizona, even if a family can’t find their normal formula. Families should talk to their doctor or health care provider about any questions or concerns they have.”— Tom Herrmann, public information officer for ADHS
Alvarez says that the First Things First website contains vital information on substituting different brands of formula if needed; information about food banks and WIC clinics across the state; information on breast milk banks and donating breast milk; and what not to do as well.
“Please do not hoard formula,” she adds. “Instead, families should buy what they need to get through two weeks and leave the rest for another family in need.”
The White House’s website shows national efforts being taken to address the shortage.
Health advice for formula-feeding families
As families wait for more formula to be on the shelves and easily accessible, Ms. Luster has some advice:
- Do not water formula down.
- Don’t substitute formula for almond milk or regular milk or other milk substitutes.
- Don’t use/share other mothers’ breast milk.
- Don’t make your own formula.
- Use social media to ask if anyone has extra formula.
- If you find formula on the shelf, only purchase what you need. This will make it available to others in need.
- See if family members from out of town can obtain formula and send it to you.
For community members who aren’t impacted by the shortage but want to help, Ms. Luster says, donate cans or containers of unopened formula and be sure to post on social media where formula is if you are out shopping and find some.
“It will get better,” Ms. Luster says about the shortage. “The factory is up and operational at this time.”
Editor’s Note: Ms. Everson is a freelance journalist.