As infant formula shortage worsens, Arizona pediatricians see increase in calls

Major retailers like Walgreens, Target, and CVS are now limiting the amount of infant formula shoppers can buy.
Published: Apr. 21, 2022 at 2:00 PM MST
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PHOENIX (3 On Your Side) - The ongoing infant formula shortage is getting worse. While parents and caregivers scramble to find the food they need for their babies, the Arizona WIC Shoppers Helpline is facing an increase in calls from people who have questions about it, 3 On Your Side has learned. Pediatricians are also hearing from concerned moms and dads.

“We definitely get a lot of calls about the shortage,” said Dr. Farah Lokey, a Phoenix Children’s pediatrician. According to a recent Datasembly report, there is a 31% out-of-stock rate this month for infant formula. In January, the out-of-stock rate was 23%. The shortage is caused by ongoing supply chain problems and a massive recall of several popular brands of formula, including Similac, that wiped out existing products. “Inflation, supply chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula,” said Ben Reich, the founder and CEO of Datasembly. “We expect to continue to see the baby formula category being dramatically affected by these conditions.”

Major retailers like Walgreens, Target, and CVS are now limiting the amount of infant formula shoppers can buy. “It’s ok to switch between brands if needed. They’re generally the same ingredients, but maybe tweaked in very small, minimal ways, but you can switch between brand names or off-brand names from the supermarkets and the bulk stores.” Tom Herrmann, a spokesperson for the Arizona Department of Health Services, which administers the USDA-funded Arizona WIC program, said the state has a contract with Abbott, the maker of Similac formulas. “The Arizona WIC Shoppers Helpline has received an increase in calls about the recent infant formula shortage and recall,” Herrmann said. “Abbott and USDA have provided the Arizona WIC Program with some flexibility to temporarily provide non-Similac formulas when they are not available in the store. Due to the temporary flexibility, the Arizona WIC Program can provide standard infant formulas without a medical provider’s prescription. Medical formulas still require a prescription from a medical provider.”

“The Arizona WIC Program receives frequent updates from Abbott on the infant formula recall, and Abbott will notify the Arizona WIC Program when the temporary flexibility to provide non-Similac standard formulas will end,” Herrmann added. “The Arizona WIC Program has been working closely with families to find the appropriate formula to meet their infant’s nutritional needs. If a WIC participant has any questions or is having difficulty locating a formula, they should contact their WIC office directly.”

While you can switch formula brands, health care providers stress you should never try to create your own formula mixture, and you should never add extra water to try to make the formula last longer. “Mix them exactly how it instructs on the can,” Dr. Lokey cautioned. “If you’re putting more water in it to stretch it out, water can be what we call ‘free water,’ meaning water not mixed with anything else, can be dangerous for infants, especially younger than six months old, so that can cause seizures if they have too much water in their systems.” Dr. Lokey says for children under one year old, it is also important to avoid cow’s milk. Instead, stick with formula or breast milk. If you have any questions or concerns, ask your pediatrician.