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Health

Michigan families grapple with infant formula shortages

Infant_with_baby_bottle.jpg
Michael Jastremski
/
Wikimedia Commons
An infant drinks from a bottle.

Michigan families have been experiencing infant formula shortages due to pandemic-related supply chain and labor issues.

These shortages were made worse in February by Abbott Nutrition's voluntary recall of certain powdered baby formulas after bacterial infections were linked to them.

Participants in the federally funded Michigan Women, Infants and Children (WIC) program have been hit especially hard.

That's because their formula choices had been restricted to Abbott products under U.S. Department of Agriculture rules that require states to collect competitive bids from manufacturers and permit states to allow only one manufacturer under contract.

Tracie Bolton, Ingham County WIC coordinator and chair of the Michigan WIC Association, said the shortages are significant. "I often get on my cell phone pictures from both staff and clients, when they're at the stores, of an empty formula shelf," said Bolton, noting that her office receives more than one hundred phone calls daily mostly from families that can't find formula.

According to the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services, approximately 85% of of formula-fed WIC participants are potentially affected by the Abbott recall.

MDHHS said the state has temporarily expanded the choice of brands and package size for WIC recipients. The state has also created a system for WIC clients to return used or unused cans of recalled formula to any retail store, regardless of where the formula was purchased. The MDHHS website with information about these options and instructions on what to do for already redeemed benefits and unredeemed benefits can be found here.

Bolton praised both of these moves. "However, it's difficult to get that information out to everyone in a timely fashion," she said. "Not only to our WIC families, but to our vendors as well."

Bolton said that despite more formula choices for WIC families, they still face extra challenges.

"Transportation issues. They work in jobs that don't allow flexibility for multiple shopping trips," said Bolton. "And many families face language barriers. And online shopping is not available in the WIC program as of yet."

Abbot said it is working with the FDA to determine the causes of the infections linked to its formula. It said production of powdered infant formula is temporarily paused, and only formula from its Sturgis, Michigan, facility was affected by the recall.

In a written statement, the company said, "Our top priority is the health and safety of the infants and children who depend on us. We value the trust parents place in us for high quality and safe nutrition and we'll do whatever it takes to keep that trust."

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