No relief for struggling parents in sight as formula shortage stretches on

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — Cassondra Watson was a simple question away from breaking down.

“It’s getting to be a panic right now,” she said, eyes watering as she reflected on the prior three weeks of her life. “We have about — I think I counted today — eight cans left, and we go through one can every two days. So the supply right now is diminishing.”

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Watson is one of hundreds of thousands of parents across the United States facing varying degrees of a baby formula shortage. The bare shelves began appearing after the FDA started investigating a major manufacturing plant for health and safety violations and a voluntary recall was issued.

Stores across Central Florida typically have some product on the shelves, meaning flexible parents aren’t finding any difficulty other than purchase limits.

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However, Watson’s 8-month-old suffers from allergies and can only drink one type of formula: PurAmino. It’s sold out across Florida, she said, and severely back-ordered online.

“I’ve done the online research,” she said. “As far as Tallahassee, down to Boynton Beach, everything is sold out.”

Watson’s story is common, especially for users of specialty brands. Many frazzled parents hop from store to store until they’re able to snag a can or two of their preferred brand, giving them a day of respite before they start over again.

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Others have turned to even more desperate measures, such as homemade formulas or diluting portions with water to make them last longer, methods Dr. Salma Elfaki, owner of Nona Pediatrics, warns people to avoid.

“Definitely don’t attempt to make your own formula, don’t dilute formula to prolong the use because that can actually cause seizures in infants,” she explained.

Elfaki said her office fields a call about formula every few days. Many of her patients are bottle-fed for various reasons, she said, and lower-income families on the WIC program relied on a brand that was recalled.

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She said she’s able to work with sales representatives to get emergency supplies to some of her patients, as most pediatricians are. For less picky babies, she can offer samples to get through a feeding or two or to help them switch to a new formula altogether.

“Not everybody is able to breastfeed, which is why we have formula and we need formula,” she said, adding that the best type of baby was a fed one.

Abbott, the company that operates the shutdown plant, said they can restart production in two weeks if the FDA approves, getting product to shelves in two months. A White House spokeswoman told reporters that approval wouldn’t be granted as long as safety concerns lingered.

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The Biden administration has been working with other manufacturers to try to stabilize the supply of formula, and is taking another look at imports to see if extra can be brought in in the meantime. Almost all the baby formula used in the United States is made domestically.

Even then, industry insiders have said it will take months before the supply is normalized.

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Elfaki recommended parents talk to their pediatricians about their options, an avenue Watson pursued every day to no avail thus far.

“It’s so sad,” she said. “I know I’m not the only parent out there.”


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