A baby formula deficiency leaves desperate parents looking for food

SAN ANTONIO – Maricella Marquez looked at the latest box of infant formula in her kitchen on Tuesday and gave her 3-year-old daughter, who suffers from a rare allergic esophageal disorder, a smaller than usual part of the specialty industry she needs to stay healthy.

Ms. Marquez has called suppliers across Texas and asked for new shipments. “Right now they’re out of it, completely,” she said. “I’m desperate.”

Marquez lives outside San Antonio, a city that has seen the nation’s highest rate of formula shortages – 56 percent of normal supplies were sold out on Tuesday, according to retailer Datasembly ̵[ads1]1; in the midst of a nationwide supply crisis that has left parents trying to feed their children.

The shortage has been a challenge for families across the country, but it is particularly noticeable in grocery stores and food banks in San Antonio, a city with a Latino majority in South Texas where many mothers lack health insurance and work in low-wage jobs that give them little opportunity to breastfeeding. Across the city, baby food is almost empty, and non-profit organizations are working overtime to obtain new supplies.

The shortage became acute with the recall of a defective mark this year after at least four babies were hospitalized with a bacterial infection and at least two babies died. But the recall has been exacerbated by relentless supply chain problems and labor shortages. The data assembly survey found that the national sold-out rate for infant formula reached 43 percent for the week ending Sunday, up 10 percent from last month’s average.

Republicans have seized increasing parents’ fears of blaming President Biden, claiming the administration has not done enough to increase production. On Tuesday, Sen. Mitt Romney of Utah sent a letter to the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture, claiming that federal officials have been too slow to respond.

The FDA, which is leading the federal response, said officials were working with Abbott Nutrition, the company involved in the recall, to restart production at the Sturgis plant, Mich. The agency said it had held regular meetings with various breast milk substitute manufacturers to increase production capacity and encourage retailers to consider setting sales limits on breast milk substitute products.

“We recognize that many consumers have not been able to access the infant formula and critical medical food they are used to using and are frustrated by their inability to do so,” said FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert M. Califf. in a statement Tuesday. . “We do everything in our power to ensure that there is an adequate product available there and when they need it.”

Across the country, many mothers say they ration food for their babies while searching for more formula. Some drive several hours, only to find several empty shelves.

Online, private sellers beat prices, market boxes for double or triple the normal price, and many large retailers are totally sold out.

Since the closure of Abbott Nutrition’s Sturgis plant, other manufacturers have struggled to rapidly increase production because their operations are geared toward a steady level of consumer demand, according to Rudi Leuschner, an associate professor of supply chain management at Rutgers Business School.

“Some industries are very good at ramping up and down,” said Dr. Leuschner. “You turn a switch and they can produce 10 times as much. Baby substitutes are not that kind of product.”

On top of the broader supply chain problems that have emerged during the coronavirus pandemic, such as labor shortages and difficulties in securing raw materials, the problem can be exacerbated by panic purchases, said Dr. Leuschner.

Abbott Nutrition said they did everything they could, including increasing production at their other US factories and shipping products from the plant in Ireland.

But for parents who have to give their babies less than the food they need, even a temporary shortage has been daunting. Some parents research homemade breast milk substitute recipes on the internet, although health experts have warned that such formulas may lack important nutrients or pose other dangers.

“We also recommend not diluting the formula because it can lead to poor nutritional balance and create serious problems,” said Kelly Bocanegra, program director for the federal program for women, infants and children in the San Antonio metro area.

At San Antonio Children’s Hospital, doctors are encouraging new mothers to increase the amount of milk they pump and breastfeed as much as possible.

However, some are unable to breastfeed due to inadequate supplies or other health problems, and health professionals said that many mothers who work in fast food, retail or other low-wage jobs may not be able to afford breastfeeding.

Parents like Ms. Marquez, whose children require special diets, does not have that option either. In some cases, those parents were already struggling to afford baby replacement boxes that could cost more than $ 100 each, said Elyse Bernal, president of Any Baby Can, a nonprofit organization that offers access to care for children with special needs.

“It’s very scary, especially for families who need a special formula, because now they’re worried about how to feed their baby?” said Megan Sparks, one of the group’s caseworkers.

For Darice Browning, the lack of specialty formula in Oceanside, California, has been so acute that she has considered going to the emergency room just to feed her youngest daughter, Octavia, who is 10 months old and has rare genetic conditions that currently make it impossible for her to eat solid food. The food allergies she shares with her 21-month-old sister, Tokyo, cause both babies to vomit blood if they ingest milk proteins.

At one point, Browning said, she called all of her daughters’ doctors looking for formula, only to be told no one had any.

“I broke down, cried on the floor and my husband, Lane, came home from work and he said, ‘What’s wrong?’ And I said, ‘Dude, I can not feed our children, I do not know what to do. , ‘»Said Browning.

From Tuesday, she had four boxes of formula left for Octavia – all on the recall list – and tried to extend the supply with smaller rations.

In Pell City, Ala., Carrie Fleming has put half a spoonful of less formula into each bottle she makes for her 3-month-old daughter, Lennix.

Fleming had originally tried to breastfeed Lennix, but could not produce enough milk. Then Lennix had severe allergic reactions to nine different milk-based formulas: She broke out in a rash, cried constantly and vomited everything she ate. The only formula Lennix can stomach is a hypoallergenic type called PurAmino, which Fleming can not find anywhere nearby.

She has called stores and pharmacies as far away as Florida and Ohio and posted on Facebook in April begging for help. Finally, she found four small boxes at a formula depot in New York for $ 245.

She tries to make these boxes last for three weeks instead of the usual two.

“It’s going to be very scary,” she said.

In the small town of Richland, Ga., Where Sandra James, 36, lives, there is only one grocery store. In recent months, she has not been able to find special child replacement for her 8-month-old son, Kenson, who breaks out in hives and loses his hair when he drinks milk-based mixtures.

First, she checked five Walmarts nearby, and drove around for hours after she was off work until she found the special formula she needed. Sometimes she has gone to five or six stores a day as far away as Alabama before she can find a box.

In the meantime, she gives her son more water and mashed vegetables to try to make his formula last longer.

“It’s just draining, very draining,” she said.

Parents who have tried to buy online said that they have not only encountered higher prices but also scams. Two weeks ago, K-Rae Knowles from Oregon, Ill., Sent money to a stranger in exchange for boxes with a special formula she needed for her 4-month-old son, Callan. The boxes never arrived, she said, and the seller’s Facebook profile was deleted a few days later.

“People are extra careful now,” she said. “It’s really heartbreaking that people are preying on this type of deficiency.”

In San Antonio, Marquez said she never thought she would rely on infant formula to keep her daughter healthy at such an advanced age. But then the daughter was diagnosed, and she was told that the special formula was the only thing that would keep her out of the hospital.

Since early April, she has supplemented her diet with fruits, vegetables, ground turkey and other plant-based proteins.

“There is very little else she can have,” she said. ‘It’s not like I can give her a happy meal. Or a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. ”

Even when available, the formula is expensive. After her health insurance pays 80 percent of the cost, the family still has to pay $ 375 a month – when food is available. With only her husband working as a grocery store manager, the money is scarce, she said.

She plans to cope this week with samples of other products that the suppliers have in stock and test which her daughter can tolerate for the time being.

“I have no other choice,” she said. “I need it. I want her to stay healthy and stay out of the hospital.”

Ana Swanson contributed with reporting.

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