Vermont has been particularly hard hit by a nationwide shortage of infant formula due to issues with the main supplier of its women, infants and children program.
“The current shortage is truly devastating because we rely on product from other parts of the world,” said Karen Flynn, Vermont program director.
Administered by the United States Department of Agriculture, the Women, Infants and Children program – commonly referred to as WIC – is for pregnant, breastfeeding and postpartum women, infants and children up to 5 years old who are at nutritional risk. . The program provides healthy and nutritious foods such as low-fat milk, eggs and cheese, as well as infant formula.
Abbott Laboratories has the contract to be the primary supplier of infant formula issued under the Vermont WIC program. However, a February closure of an Abbott factory in Michigan and a recall of products made there led to a nationwide formula shortage, after several babies who had consumed formula made there fell ill and two died.
Court records reveal that U.S. Food and Drug Administration inspectors found a deadly bacteria, cronobacter, at the plant in February and then in two batches of infant formula produced at the plant in 2019 and 2020.
Abbott said there was no evidence linking childhood illnesses to formula. Since the closure, the company has been shipping formula to the United States from Ireland.
The Food and Drug Administration said Monday it reached an agreement with Abbott on steps that will allow the plant to reopen in the coming weeks, and Flynn expects the supply chain to recover within six to eight weeks.
Meanwhile, Flynn said, the Women, Infants and Children program has worked with the U.S. Department of Agriculture to expand the list of products families can purchase with their WIC-provided electronic payment cards when they visit. at the store.
“There’s still a long time before we get to the other side,” Flynn said.
With formula shortages, WIC Vermont is working closely with families who want to breastfeed, she said. Vermont has a high rate of breastfeeding women.
According to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, of babies born in 2017, 90.2% of infants in Vermont were breastfed at some point. Vermont ranked tenth in the nation for breastfeeding, behind Minnesota, Idaho, Oregon, Washington, Colorado, Alaska, Utah, Virginia and California.
Flynn said her staff encourage pregnant mothers to consider breastfeeding and provide them with access to pumps and a peer counselor or breastfeeding management services.
Flynn said the Vermont WIC serves about 11,000 people and between 8,000 and 9,000 families.
While formula shortages are widespread, some retailers in the state still have inventory, Health Commissioner Mark Levine said Tuesday at Governor Phil Scott’s weekly press briefing.
“Everyone should be aware that smaller stores and some pharmacies may have adequate prep supplies if they can’t find it in some of the larger supermarkets they’ve been looking at,” Levine said.
Families should not substitute cow’s milk, goat’s milk or plant milk for infant formula, he added, nor should they dilute infant formula or make their own formula. Levine advised ordering only from recognized distributors and pharmacies.
He advised people to ask their pediatrician for free samples or suggestions for a formula similar to the one they use.
Scott said his administration is taking an inventory of places that have a formula and urged parents to call the governor’s office at 802-828-3333 if they are having trouble finding supplies.
Another big formula maker, Perrigo, has had a factory in Georgia, Vermont, for about 10 years. In 2020, he announced plans to expand the facility, which employs hundreds of people.
In 2013, the company declared the Georgia plant to be the world’s largest maker of private label infant formula.
Perrigo did not respond to interview requests. Company chief executive Murray Kessler told Reuters last week that the Vermont plant was operating at 115% capacity to help meet demand.
Correction: An earlier version of this story included an incorrect phone number for the governor’s office.
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