Formula Shortage Crisis Impacts Children with Special Needs, Low-Wage Families Most

Following the voluntary shutdown of Abbott’s Sturgis facility in February, thousands of families and pediatricians have been thrown into upheaval trying to come up with solutions to the dwindling nationwide supply of formula.

The facility was shut down in response to several reports of serious bacterial infections between Sept. 2021 and Feb. 2022. The Food and Drug Administration found that the facility was contaminated with Cronobacter Sakazakii, a bacteria that can cause sepsis, a severe, life-threatening infection. It was revealed that two of the four infants who consumed the powdered formula died following hospitalization. 

Although the February recall only affected a particular baby formula, the effect was great. It affected kids with special medical needs such as those with severe allergies or kidney disease.

 The recall of Abbott’s formula further strained the already existing shortage of formula due to the pandemic supply chain issues. According to medical experts, children with medical needs requiring specialized formulas have been the worst hit.

In a report by the New York Times, two kids with special needs who require specialized formula were recently hospitalized in Tennessee because their families could not find the specific formula due to the growing nationwide shortage. Both kids suffer from short bowel syndrome, which prevents them from absorbing nutrients because parts of their intestines are missing. People with this syndrome rely on specialized formulas like EleCare, an amino-acid-based product made by Abbott Nutrition. 

In an interview with CNN, Dr. Mark Corkins, a pediatric gastroenterologist at the hospital in Tennessee who treated the patients, called this shortage the worst crisis in his career. According to Dr. Corkins, they have tried different alternatives, some made with chopped-up proteins, but it didn’t work. The children couldn’t tolerate them and became dehydrated. 

The Tennessee children are a small example of the many cases across the country. The parents of these vulnerable children have been sent into a frantic search for a short-term solution as the formula shortage continues to drag on. Some spend hours searching for formulas online or in person, and in cases where none can be found, they resort to finding alternatives. 

In a bid to find an alternative, parents mix up different brands and switch brands. According to Steven Abrahams, MD, FAAP, from the American Academy of Pediatrics, “It is likely that your baby will do just fine with different formulas as long as they are the same type. If your baby does not like the taste or has a hard time tolerating a different formula, you may want to try gradually introducing small amounts of the new formula mixed with the usual formula. Slowly increase the amount of the new formula.”

While many healthy babies can switch easily from brand to brand— others do not have it that easy as it could be a life-or-death decision. Some medical experts believe that there are deficiencies caused by using alternatives or diluting the formulas that may lead to serious health problems in these children and cause serious problems like seizures, coma, and even death.

Much of the burden from the shortage also falls on low-income families. Government data reveals that the formula shortage is more strongly felt by economically disadvantaged communities and communities of color as they rely heavily on the formula. 

Carla Cevasco, a history professor, believed that the economic and social realities disproportionately faced by many women of color worsened the shortage’s effect. “Women of color are much less likely to have access to paid family leave, so they’re not breastfeeding at the same rates that wealthier White women are. That means they’re reliant on the formula supply. Many women have to go back to work within two weeks of giving birth, typically in service occupations, and they are disproportionately women of color. These inequities keep happening”, Cevasco said in the interview with the 19th news,

The United States Food and Drug Administration is working around the clock to reduce the formula shortage. CNN reports that a federal judge has recently signed off on a consent decree between the FDA and the baby formula manufacturer Abbott Nutrition. 

 

Source: Washington Post