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Infant formula shortage expected to continue through the summer

STURGIS, Mich. (WXIN) – The Abbott facility, previously shuttered after an infant formula recall, is back up and running, but that doesn’t mean the formula shortage is close to ending.

On Saturday, Abbott announced it is restarting infant formula production at its Sturgis Michigan facility after meeting initial requirements from the FDA. To start off, the company said it is starting production of EleCare and other specialty and metabolic formulas. These are expected to be released to consumers around June 20.

It will take longer for the company to restart the production of Similac and other formulas. Amy David, a clinical associate professor of supply chain management for Purdue University’s school of management, expects consumers will continue to see tight availability at least through the end of the summer.

“Caretakers still have limited options, but as we’re seeing more and more being brought in from other countries, they can consider switching brands, and of course, you want to do that under the advice of a pediatrician,” said David.” There might be some brands that are on the shelves that are different from what people are used to seeing.”

In an effort to ease the shortage, the Biden administration eased import rules for foreign manufacturers, airlifted formula from Europe and invoked federal emergency rules to prioritize production.

“The FDA is leaving no stone unturned to further increase the availability of infant formula. We are doing everything in our power as part of the all-of-government efforts to ensure there’s adequate product available wherever and whenever parents and caregivers need it,” said FDA Commissioner Robert M. Califf, M.D.

David said the supply chain still faces issues even as Abbott begins to restart production. This includes events happening outside of the United States.

“We also know that some of the ingredients used in baby formula are going to be harder and harder to get, because of other things going on in the world,” said David. “Such as the dependence on sunflower oil from Ukraine, which is now obviously involved in a war.”

While the shortage continues, David said caretakers should make sure to buy formula from legitimate retailers. The imported formulas are largely being put into grocery stores and other retailers.

“You don’t want to try and buy direct from anyone overseas,” said David. “The odds of it being counterfeit or not properly regulated are too high on such a critical product.”

The FDA warns that caretakers should avoid unsafe formula practices or buying more than they need. They provided some things for people to avoid:

Don’t try to make formula at home. There are serious health and safety concerns with homemade formula. Your baby’s nutritional needs are very specific, especially in the first year of life. Homemade formula may contain too little or too much of certain vitamins and minerals, like iron. Homemade formula also increases the risk of contamination, which could make your baby sick or lead to infection.

Don’t water down formula. Adding more water can take nutrients away from your baby and lead to serious health problems, like seizures.

Don’t use formula past the “best by” or “use by” date. The formula may not be safe and may have lost some of its nutrients.

Don’t buy more formula than you need. The shortage is affecting families who are already navigating the stress of parenting during a pandemic. It can be tempting to buy as much formula as possible right now, but the AAP suggests buying no more than a 10-14 day supply to help improve shortages.

David said more needs to be done to prevent a similar shortage in the future. She said we need to rethink what a supply chain should look like, and what its function is.

“If we want to be sure that there is always enough baby formula, there needs to be building in some redundancies and deliberately adding things that are going to add cost to the supply chain,” said David. “But [it] would hopefully prevent [a shortage] if there is a crisis, if there is a single point of failure.”

David said this would include things like building additional production capacity that could go unused. It might also mean that there would have to be additional suppliers and the ability to get raw materials quickly. That could mean a stockpile, or again additional capacity at those suppliers.

There isn’t a lot of motivation for any of the big producers to do that, according to David. It would have to be something the government mandates.

Lawmakers continue to question Abbott officials about policies and procedures at the plant and how the situation was allowed to develop in the first place. They are also investigating concerns over the fact that only four companies produce more than 90% of the formula consumed by infants in the country.

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