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Syracusans navigate baby formula shortage as US works to boost supply

A sign sits on bare shelves at a Liverpool Target store to inform consumers about the national infant formula shortage.
Tarryn Mento
A sign sits on bare shelves at a Liverpool Target store to inform consumers about the national infant formula shortage.

As U.S. officials take aggressive steps to address the ongoing baby formula shortage, Syracuse doctors and advocates are working to ensure local parents don’t go without the necessary nutrition for their children.

Food regulators are already making it easier to import formula and planning to reopen a major manufacturer, which fueled the problem when it closed because of safety concerns, and now the president is invoking the Defense Production Act to help manufacturers generate more supply.

But it'll still be weeks before the shelves start to fill.

Dr. Chima Chionuma, a Syracuse pediatrician, said the caretakers of her patients have had to drive to multiple stores sometimes miles away to find what they need.

“Luckily in Syracuse, we have had one or two stores still carry it," said Chionuma, chair of pediatrics at the Syracuse Community Health Center.

She said it is critical to use breastmilk or formula during a child's first year because milk alone isn't enough to support proper brain development. She urged parents to lean on available resources to ensure they stick to formula if they're not breastfeeding.

"Our main focus is please do not switch your child to anything else. Do not use evaporated milk, do not use dried milk, do not use any other supplements," she said.

The main entrance to the Syracuse Community Health Center.
The main entrance to the Syracuse Community Health Center.

Summer Merrick, the director of Help Me Grow Onondaga, said her group is coordinating with the local diaper bank and 211 CNY to help parents find supplies.

“We are able to connect them with formula if they don't have access to transportation or the financial means to purchase the formula," Merrick said.

She is also pointing those families who can travel to stores that carry the product thanks to a Facebook group tracking supplies.

However, Merrick says specialty formulas, like those for allergies, are harder to come by.

The U.S. Food and Drug Administration said other infant formula manufacturers are increasing production as it works to bring a closed plant in Michigan safely back into operation. The Abbott Nutrition facility issued a voluntary recall and shut down back in February after concerns its products may be linked to bacterial infections in four babies.

The FDA said an inspection found the bacteria at the Abbott facility in Sturgis, but the company is implementing corrective measures to re-open. That includes product testing, notification requirements and an independent monitor to ensure Abbott complies, according to an FDA news release.

The agency said in-stock data from earlier this month shows additional production at other facilities is having a slight impact, but the problem will likely linger for several more weeks.

Tarryn Mento is an award-winning digital, audio and video journalist with experience reporting from Arizona, Southern California, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic. Tarryn produces in-depth and investigative content for WAER while overseeing the station's student reporter experience. She is also an adjunct professor at Syracuse University.