Baby formula shortage hits Sisters


Last updated 5/17/2022 at Noon


Young Miles is happy to have some scarce baby formula.

The nationwide infant formula shortage has reached crisis proportions. Mothers in some locales are driving as much as four hours to find the product. Others are paying online profiteers three to four times its normal price. And, most desperately and dangerously, some moms are diluting the mix to ration what they have. Doctors warn that this is harmful, with any number of potential detriments to a child’s development.

Given that Sisters skews toward an older population and is largely unaffordable for young families, it would be easy to assume that the problem is not here. It is, though, and is likely to get worse. When The Nugget visited Ray’s last Wednesday, there was no regular formula on the shelves, only a lactose-free variety. They got another case and put it out Friday, but by Saturday afternoon, there were two cans.

Workers said that demand is the same but they cannot get adequate supply. They don’t see evidence of hoarding.

Bi-Mart does not carry infant formula and at Dollar General only two cans remained on the shelf Friday. Normally mothers buy formula at Target or Walmart in Redmond, or at major pharmacy retailers like Walgreen’s and Rite Aid. All of these merchants have placed limits on the amounts that can be purchased at one time, to curb hoarding.

Nonetheless, families are buying whatever they can get.

“This isn’t like toilet paper,” said Alison Greene of Sisters, mom of five-month-old Miles. “This is actually urgent. I’m going to buy all I can until they fix the problem.”

She had relied on Amazon until March. Ten of the top-12 formula varieties at Amazon are “currently unavailable” or “temporarily out of stock.”

A group of three moms at Clemens Park, two with formula-age infants, told The Nugget they bought their formula in Belgium and so far have not been affected. They gladly pay more for the goat milk-based formula in the belief it is better for their babies. But they worry for their friends who buy locally. They also worry that their source will dry up as shoppers go to extremes to stock their pantries.

The third mom’s sister in Beaverton resorted to calling her pediatrician for an emergency can of her brand. Pediatric practices ordinarily get samples from manufacturers to introduce to their patients and create lifelong brand loyalty. Brand preference is a big part of the problem.

Rita Fuller in Camp Sherman has been buying all the formula she can get her hands on and shipping it to her daughter in Arizona. The brand she uses is specially blended for colicky babies and is costing $800/month in Flagstaff, almost three times its list price.

Pediatricians caution not to mix blends or brands. That can result in diarrhea at best and possibly worse symptoms. Yet, across the country mothers are being forced to do just that when their preferred brand is not available.

Dawn Cooper of Sisters FAN (Family Access Network) reports that shortages are not a concern at the moment among the 900 persons they serve here. She did use the word “recession” to describe what she sees as a rising problem with food security.

She referred us to WIC (Women, Infants and Children) in Bend who we could not reach by press time. Brian Dittmeier, senior director of public policy at the National WIC Association, told reporters he has “heard of families starting solids earlier than they would prefer, turning to risky recipes for homemade formula, or diluting formula to make it last longer even though it might not provide the nutrition babies need.”

“Some parents,” he said, “are even feeding recalled formula to their children despite the risks, because it’s the only age-appropriate food they have available.”

Families enrolled in WIC and SNAP (Supplemental Nutrition Assistance Program) are limited to a few brands, and transportation challenges may make it difficult for low-income parents to reach the few stores with cans on the shelves. Moreover, having to shell out for hyper-expensive formula leaves parents with less money for other essentials like diapers or even rent.

As has been widely reported, the Abbott Healthcare Nutrition plant in Sturgis, Michigan, was closed in February, when Abbott issued a voluntary recall of certain powdered formulas made at the facility amid an FDA investigation, after four complaints that babies who consumed products from the plant became sick from bacterial infections.

Abbott, the leading U.S. producer, is the maker of EleCare, Alimentum, metabolic formulas, and Similac.

“From the time we restart the site, it will take six to eight weeks before product is available on shelves,” Abbott said in a statement. They are addressing the Food and Drug Administration’s issues with the plant, and it is flying in Similac from its plant in Ireland.

“I can’t wait six or eight weeks,” Alison Greene said.

She goes to Redmond twice weekly, making the rounds between Fred Meyer and Safeway. She feels guilty about managing, and worries that other moms aren’t so lucky.

“What if they don’t have a car?” she said.


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