Morgan Odom feeds her son, Barron, 2, baby formula through a feeding tube while his twin brother, Lennox, helps on Tuesday. Staff photo by Tim Bath
Morgan Odom feeds her son, Barron, 2, baby formula through a feeding tube while his twin brother, Lennox, helps on Tuesday. Staff photo by Tim Bath
Two-year-old Barron Odom is a typical toddler.

He loves being adventurous outdoors, playing soccer and hanging out with his parents and twin brother, Lennox.

But like thousands of other chi ldren with gastro-intestinal issues, Barron gets his nutrition via a G-tube.

Born at 27 weeks and having spent the first several months of his life in a neonatal intensive care unit, Barron has struggled with his eating since birth, said his mother, Morgan.

The boy’s daily nutrition comes from Neocate Jr., an amino acid-based prescription formula supplied by the CVS Health specialty infusion service, Coram.

The formula is expensive — over $1,000 per month — and Barron can easily go through 16 cans in that timespan.

And now there’s an even bigger crisis, Morgan noted.

The formula is mostly on backorder.

Of course, the Odoms aren’t alone in their struggles to find the formula they need for their son.

People across the U.S. are all in the same boat, traveling from store to store in search of baby formula, only to be met with rows of empty shelves.

And regardless of why the situation has escalated to this point or how quickly it can be fixed, Morgan admitted that kids are the ones paying the ultimate price right now.

“It’s so scary,” she said. “That’s the only thing really keeping him going every day. He can’t chew or swallow, so if he doesn’t get this (formula), he goes to the hospital. … It’s like our backs are against the wall.”

And with parenthood already being hard enough, the lack of immediate access to Barron’s formula is one more added stressor for Morgan and her husband, Shaun.

“It’s heartbreaking,” Morgan admitted. “I recently spent all day long trying to reach out to my resources to see if they had extra cans. … It’s just a really scary place to be right now. … And I did talk to this one mom online, she gave us 17 cans because her son switched to a different formula. I can’t be more grateful. That’s a month’s worth. So at least for now, I can breathe for a month.”

HOW WE GOT HERE

Supply issues. Illnesses. A voluntary recall. A complete shutdown.

There are many reasons, experts note, as to what led to the chaos that is happening today regarding the baby formula shortage.

According to information provided by the Food and Drug Administration and obtained by ABC News earlier this month, Abbott Nutrition — a baby formula manufacturing plant in Sturgis, Michigan — showed warning signs for potential problems as far back as last fall.

In a 34-page whistleblower report from a former Abbott employee, officials were supposedly made aware of suspected sanitation and operational issues, per the FDA’s report.

And then came February 2022.

That’s when four babies who were fed powdered formula from Abbott developed rare bacterial infections.

Two of the infants later died. After a sweeping search of the manufacturing plant, the FDA released its findings in March, indicating that there were traces of a bacteria called Cronobacter on several surfaces throughout Abbott, though the FDA said it’s still unclear whether the bacteria played a role in the infants’ illnesses.

Nevertheless, Abbot t announced Feb. 17 that it was recalling three powdered infant formulas from their plant in Sturgis.

Abbott took it one step further and announced a complete shutdown of the plant that same month, which halted production of all its baby formula brands such as Similac and EleCare.

And with the supply halted but the demand still high, it ultimately created a perfect storm.

FEELING THE EFFECTS


In the weeks following the Abbott shutdown, the nation’s baby formula supply has hit dire straits, with some states seeing up to 50% of its top-selling products out of stock.

The effects of the formula shortage are being seen everywhere these days.

In southeastern Washington state, for instance, a father named Mac Jaehnert told CNN that he drove around 1,000 miles in one week just to find baby formula for his premature daughter.

Others are resorting to websites such as Facebook Marketplace, where anxious parents find other parents willing to sell or donate formula or breastmilk to help alleviate some of the stress.

And for one group in particular, the formula shortage is hitting especially hard.

Lora Burke-Mulkey is the program manager for the Howard County WIC program, a U.S. Department of Agriculture-run program which helps women, infants and children.

There are income and nutrition risk requirements to be eligible for WIC, and Howard County’s clinic runs what Burke-Mulkey calls a cost containment program, which means everyone who is eligible for WIC can be helped.

In order to do the cost containment program, Burke-Mulkey said the WIC program negotiates a contract with a company, and they are then given a large rebate in return.

Along with Howard, Burke-Mulkey also oversees the program in six other counties — Tipton, Cass, Grant, Hamilton, Clinton and Fulton — assisting approximately 11,000 to 12,000 individuals.

Around 30% of WIC’s clients are infants, Burke-Mulkey noted.

Because of the cost containment program, WIC typically is only able to purchase a certain type of baby formula for its clients, along with a certain sized can.

And though the government has since come out with waivers for WIC, meaning clients can now purchase a wider variety of formulas, the shortage has still hit the organization hard, Burke-Mulkey admitted.
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