Houston leaders deliver help to parents amid baby formula shortage

For Third Ward residents and new parents Ovie and Mikayla Cade, finding formula for their baby, Kennedy, has been difficult.

The Cades and many other parents around the nation have been haunted by empty shelves as voluntary recalls and COVID-19 pandemic-related supply chain issues have wrecked havoc on the infant formula supply chain.

To help, US Rep. Sheila Jackson-Lee and volunteers from the National Association of Christian Churches Disaster Services handed out infant formula and sanitation supplies Saturday afternoon at Yates High School.

“It’s better than nothing,” Ovie said. “I feel glad and grateful right now and I used to go to this school so that’s one of the good things about it.”

As of May 8, the nationwide out-of-stock rate for infant formula has spiked at 43 percent, according to Datasembly — a retail data analysis company. Comparatively, in the first seven months of 2021, the out-of-stock rate was between 2 and 8 percent.

In February, Abbott Laboratories — which manufactures Similac, Alimentum and EleCare infant formulas — issued a voluntary recall for products manufactured at their Sturgis, Mich., facility after four consumers filed complaints that Salmonella was detected in infants who consumed the formula, according to the US Food and Drug Administration.

The incident compounded an already existing shortage and high demand, according to experts.

The demand for formula, Jackson Lee said, was so intense this week in Washington DC it moved her to organize Saturday’s event with the NACC to distribute a trailer full of formula, which her office estimated would help over 300 local families.

“We did this because babies are growing and developing at a most rapid pace and I can’t suffer one moment — nor can their parents — when they’re not being nourished,” Jackson-Lee said. “The idea of ​​rushing to give formula to carry them for a couple days is to… bridge in finding a store or finding a supply in the next couple days.”

Dr. Nataly Carol Daly, a local obstetrician who has practiced in Houston for 40 years, emphasized the importance of formula availability and called this shortage how unprecedented this shortage has been.

“For those who choose not to breastfeed — and there are some women who can’t breastfeed — we surely need to have formula as far as the babies are concerned,” Daly said. “This is a shocking thing to happen, I’ve never heard of this in my life and I’ve been here a while.”

It is crucial for mothers who can breastfeed, Dr. Janice Powells said, adding that as a pediatrician, she receives daily requests from mothers for formula.

Formula offers essential nutrients in the first year of life, Powells added, cautioning parents against trying to create homemade formula.

“The first 12 months is so important for how they are going to develop and do in school, later in life and as adults,” she said. “If parents who are struggling and cannot get the formula or find it decide to mix their own concoction… there could be a problem with the minerals being unbalanced and the chemistry not being right.”

Jackson Lee said she is planning on reaching out to national disaster organizations to pull together resources for the shortage and get formula into the hands of parents.

“Entities that deal with disaster may have other product in other locations in Texas and they can share around the state and they can share it with us,” she said. “I’m hoping that we will have a break in the supply chain crisis and get things moving.”

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