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Parents turn to social media exchanges to find formula in the midst of shortages

WASHINGTON—President Joe Biden stepped up his administration’s response to a national campaign formula milk shortage On Thursday, it forced frantic parents to band together online to trade and sell each other to feed their babies.

The president spoke with executives from Gerber and Reckitt about how they could ramp up production and how his administration could help, and spoke with executives from Walmart and Target about how to restock shelves and address regional disparities in formula access, the White House said.

The administration plans to monitor possible price increases and work with trading partners in Mexico, Chile, Ireland and the Netherlands on imports, even though 98% of infant formula is made domestically.

The problem is the result of supply chain disruptions and a safety recall, and has had a cascading effect: retailers are limiting what customers can buy, and doctors and health workers are urging parents to contacting food banks or doctors’ offices, in addition to warning against diluting formula to stretch supplies or using DIY recipes online.

The shortage is hitting low-income families particularly hard after formula maker Abbott was recalled due to contamination concerns. The recall wiped out many brands covered by WIC, a federal food stamp-like program that serves women, infants and children, although the program now allows brand substitutes. The Biden administration is working with states to make it easier for WIC recipients to purchase different sizes of formula that their benefits might not currently cover.

According to the White House, about half of infant formula nationwide is purchased by participants using WIC benefits.

Clara Hinton, 30, of Hartford, Connecticut, is part of this group. She has a 10 month old daughter, Patiennce, who has an allergy that requires a special formula.

Hinton, who doesn’t have a car, took the bus to the suburbs, city to city, and finally found a suitable formula at a store in West Hartford. But she said the store refused to take her WIC card, it was not the first time this had happened.

Hinton said her baby recently ran out of formula from an already opened box she got from a friend.

A sign due to limited supplies is posted on the formula shelf at a grocery store Tuesday in Salt Lake City. (Rick Bowmer, Associated Press)PA

“She doesn’t have a formula,” she said. “I just put her on regular milk. What do I do? Her pediatrician made it clear that I’m not supposed to do this, but what should I do? »

In Utah, another WIC cardholder, Elizabeth Amador, goes from store to store every day after finishing her job at a call center in Salt Lake City, desperately looking for a particular formula whose her 9 month old daughter needs. She recently only had one can, but had four on Thursday. She said she would not stop her heavy daily routine until she knew the shortage was over.

“It sucks, you know, because of high gas prices,” Amador said. “We have to drive everywhere to find formula milk. It’s stressful. »

Some parents are also using social media to fill supply gaps.

Ashley Maddox, a 31-year-old mother of two from San Diego, started a Facebook group on Wednesday after failing to find a formula for her 5-month-old son, Cole, at the Naval Base Commissioner.

“I met a girl in my group and she had seven boxes of the formula I needed that was just sitting in her house and her baby no longer needed,” she said. “So I got out in the car, it was about a 20 minute drive and picked it up and paid for it. It was a miracle.

She said there was already a stigma attached to being a non-breastfeeding mother and the group became cohesive. “Not being able to have that formula is scary,” she said.

Jennifer Kersey, 36, from Cheshire, Connecticut, said she was on her last box of formula for her 7-month-old son, Blake Kersey Jr., before someone saw her post on a Facebook group and does come with a few sample cans. . She said she and other members of the group were helping each other, finding stores that might have the formula in stock and bringing it to mothers in need.

“At first I started to panic,” she said. “But, I believe in the Lord, so I said, ‘God, I know you’re going to provide for me,’ and I just started reaching out to people, ‘Hey, do you have that formula?

Kimberly Anderson, 34, of Hartford County, Maryland, said her 7.5-month-old son was taking prescription formula that was nearly impossible to find locally. She took to social media and said people in Utah and Boston found the formula, which she paid for shipping.

“They say it takes a whole village to raise a baby,” she said. “I had no idea my village spanned the entire United States as I contacted my friends, family for their zip codes so I could check their local Walmarts to ship to me directly.”

Commodity shortages have been a problem since the start of the coronavirus pandemic. Access to medical supplies, computer chips, appliances, cars and other goods has been compromised by closed factories and virus outbreaks, as well as storms and other weather-related events.

A sign is displayed in a CVS pharmacy indicating a shortage in the availability of baby food

A sign is displayed at a CVS pharmacy indicating a shortage of baby food availability on Tuesday in Charlotte, North Carolina AP Photo/Chris Carlson

Parents who desperately search for baby formula on retailer websites such as Amazon and Google are offered products aimed at toddlers, including goat milk powder for toddlers and milk powders made with of plants.

A banner ad on Amazon advertises an “organic, non-GMO formula for babies and toddlers,” but a closer look at the product image shows it’s only for children over 12 months. Other toddler milk ads appear on Amazon’s website on out-of-stock infant formula pages.

Toddler milk cans often look similar to infant formula, but the ingredients are distinct, with toddler milks sometimes containing more sugar and calories, said Frances Fleming-Milici, director of marketing initiatives at ‘UConn at the Rudd Center, which studied the packaging of toddler milk. Toddler milk also does not meet FDA standards for infant formula.

“It’s not like buying a pair of shoes. It’s a bit more serious,” Fleming-Milici said. “It’s serving something you shouldn’t be giving to your child.”

Dr. Navneet Hundal, a pediatric gastroenterologist at Massachusetts General Hospital in Boston, said she and other pediatricians have been grappling with infant formula shortages for months. Formula makers stopped giving out samples that she could pass on to parents, she said. She advises new parents to talk to their pediatrician to see if there are other brands of formula they can safely give their newborns.

“It governs our clinical practices right now,” she said.

A safety reminder compounded the challenges.

The Food and Drug Administration warned consumers on February 17 to avoid certain powdered baby products from a Sturgis, Michiganfacility operated by Abbott Nutrition, which then initiated a voluntary recall. According to findings published in March by federal safety inspectors, Abbott failed to maintain sanitary conditions and procedures at the plant.

The FDA launched its investigation after four babies fell ill with a rare bacterial infection after consuming formula made at the factory. All four were hospitalized and two died. Chicago-based Abbott said in a statement, “There is no evidence to link our formulas to these childhood illnesses.” The bacteria samples taken from the infants did not match those found at the company’s factory, Abbott noted.

Abbott said that pending FDA approval, “we could restart the site within two weeks.” The company would begin by first producing EleCare, Alimentum, and Metabolic formulas, and then begin production of Similac and other formulas. Once production started, it took six to eight weeks for the formula to be available on the shelves.

Tuesday, the FDA said it was working with US manufacturers to increase production and streamline paperwork to allow more imports.

“We recognize that this is certainly a challenge for people across the country, something that the president is very focused on and we are going to do everything we can to reduce bureaucracy and take steps to increase supply.” said White House press secretary Jen Psaki. told reporters.

Meanwhile, the shortage became politicized on Thursday as Republicans, including Texas Governor Greg Abbott, criticized the Biden administration for providing formula milk to babies detained at the US-Mexico border.

Biden, in a letter to the Federal Trade Commission on Thursday, urged the independent agency to “use the full tools of the Commission” to investigate and act on reports of fraud or price gouging at the due to supply disruptions.

“It is unacceptable that families are wasting time and spending hundreds of dollars more because of the pricing actions of scammers,” he wrote to FTC Chair Lina Khan.