Baby formula shortage hitting Tri-State Area families hard, Biden administration cracking down on price gouging

Baby formula shortage hitting Tri-State Area families hard, Biden administration cracking down on price gouging

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NEW YORK — New numbers show just how bad the struggle is for many families amid the ongoing baby formula shortage.

According to one data-tracking agency, the out-of-stock rate for formula was 43 percent last week – up from 40 percent the week before. That number was between two and eight percent in the first half of the year.

In February, the largest infant formula manufacturer in the country, Abbott Nutrition, initiated a voluntary recall of its top three brands. But supply chain issued also played a part in the shortage.

Now, so many parents in the Tri-State Area have been doing everything they can to get formula for their babies, CBS2’s Dick Brennan reported Thursday.

Eleven-month-old Piper O’Keeffe’s sippy cup has a new brew — a mix of infant formula and whole milk. Her mother is desperately trying to stretch her supply, which is down to only six bottles.

“We are unable to find this in any store we’ve looked at. All of our online subscriptions have been canceled,” Courtney O’Keeffe said.

But doctors say watering down formula is a dangerous idea.

“There might be a lot of issues there that could lead to problems for babies, affecting their growth, affecting their ability to stay hydrated properly. So it’s definitely not something we would encourage,” Dr. Joshua Wechsler said.

“I try to get it online, Amazon is saying a month for delivery. Walmart doesn’t even give an option,” said Raksha Mudbhary, a first-time mom in New York City.

Mudbhary said she’d welcome any solutions to the formula shortage.

“Raising a baby your first year is really difficult, so anything that will make this easier is definitely gonna be appreciated,” Mudbhary said.

Jenna Cox, whose son Landon is a healthy eater, is having to scramble to find formula.

“Well it’s like a rat race. It’s like you have to rush to Target as soon as they open to see if there’s anything on the shelves, and there’s nothing,” Cox said.

It’s a nationwide shortage. Formula is more than 40 percent out of stock in New York, New Jersey, Connecticut and 27 other states. The shortage is over 50 percent in eight more states.

President Joe Biden said he has a plan to address the shortage.

“That includes increasing imports. It also includes ensuring we’re working with retailers, as the president did during his calls to make sure that shelves are stocked,” White House Press Secretary Jen Psaki said.

It also includes cutting red tape to get more formula to store shelves quicker, aiding parents on federal programs to more easily purchase formula with their benefit plans and cracking down on price gouging.

Many parents who find empty shelves go online only to find ridiculous prices. One 27-ounce can of specialty formula that usually costs around $40 is now going for $129.  

“I think yesterday, I booked a delivery for formula that was $90 for just one can, even through the original prices for them is like $40,” said Mariam Rizvi, a New York City resident.

Currently, the average cost of the most popular baby formula products is up as much as 18 percent over the last 12 months.

Abbott says it will take two weeks to restart formula production and six to eight weeks to get it onto store shelves again, so what is a parent to do now?

“One of the things you can do is really check a lot of the different stores. We’re finding that some of the smaller stores, actually, may not have sold out quite as quickly,” Dr. Lee Savio Beers said.

Beers adds sometimes you can switch brands.

“For many babies, there are certain formulas that are out of stock, but others where it is in stock, and so for most babies, you can actually substitute another formula and do just fine in the meantime,” Beers said.

Of course, there are special circumstances in which you need to check with your doctor, and doctors say don’t get taken in by those home formulas you may see circulating online.

“Our biggest fear is that parents dilute the formula and this is a big no-no,” said Dr. Dyan Hes, a pediatrician at Gramercy Hospital.

Hes and the Food and Drug Administration are warning parents against making formula themselves.

“That’s how babies end up having seizures or dying or becoming malnourished because most of those recipes are outdated and they could be dangerous, and they’re not scientifically based,” Hes said.

New York state said its department of health is supporting the distribution of formula through its home visiting program and partnership networks.

The state said it’s also monitoring supply chain disruptions.

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