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Grand Forks parents, daycares scramble for baby formula amid national shortage

The shortage of baby formula has been raging on in the United States since March, with an out-of-stock rate capping at 43% for the week ending May 8.

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The baby formula aisle at Target in Grand Forks remains empty as the baby formula shortage rages on in the United States.
Jacob Holley
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GRAND FORKS — Infant formula was briefly available at Target recently, if you could afford the price.

“The cans at Target right now that are available are organic formula, and it’s like $50 a can,” Heather Sabourin, foster mother of a 5-month-old infant, said. “Yeah, it's terrible.”

The shortage of baby formula has been raging on in the United States since March, with an out-of-stock rate capping at 43% for the week ending May 8 . Mothers of infant children, caregivers, daycares and most anyone associated with young children's care have been scrambling to scrounge up as much of the product as possible.

Sabourin had never seen cans of baby formula for more than $24.99 at Target before the shortage began in March. The problem is generally traced by various sources to Abbott Nutrition, one of the few companies in the baby formula market, which recalled all of its products manufactured at its plant in Sturgis, Michigan, on Feb. 17. It shut down the plant after four infants received bacterial infections and two died after consuming the formula.

The Associated Press reported Monday that Abbott reached an agreement with U.S. health officials to restart production at its Sturgis factory . But once production restarts it will still take a minimum of eight weeks before it can ship new product to stores.

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Sabourin has received aid from North Dakota WIC (women, infants & children), which is a nutrition and breastfeeding program for pregnant women and new mothers to ensure infants get the nutrition they need. She has also had to get baby formula from her infant’s doctor.

Sabourin is now in the process of switching formulas.

“He's going to go to a sensitive form of Similac (product) that WIC carries, but even WIC has been having trouble finding it,” Sabourin said. “One day I drove to seven different places, and there was no formula on the shelf.”

There may be baby formula availability online, but it’s of no use to mothers like Sabourin who cannot use their WIC cards for online purchases.

“That’s a huge problem, too,” Sabourin said. “You can only use them in stores and it's only certain stores that take WIC, like Target, Walmart and Hugo's.”

Jen Beck, owner of All About Kids daycare in Grand Forks, said she usually purchases baby formula on a weekly or biweekly basis. When it became harder to find, she was able to find some online, but she is now unable to locate any.

The daycare serves 75 children, 11 of whom are infants, but not all 11 infants consume baby formula. In the past, parents have been able to supply their own formula for their infants.

“There's extremely extensive formulas, and if they're on those, then we don't supply them,” Beck said. “But if it's just like a typical formula we will.”

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Beck said some people have resorted to using online workarounds to get what they need.

“If you go on to Amazon, you can switch where you're from to Canada, and there's no issues in Canada getting formula,” Beck said. “I haven't tried that yet, just because we do have some, and I don't want to take away from people that don't have any.”

Mary McKay also has had trouble finding enough formula for her 7-month-old son. She said while switching your location to Canada on Amazon might be a viable strategy to access more stock, it comes at a cost.

“I don’t think you can use EBT through that,” McKay said. “A lot of other moms shared that they would have had to pay $50 just for shipping per can.”

While EBT and SNAP cards can be used to buy approved goods on Amazon, they do not cover shipping costs and other fees.

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Wharam is starting "Do Life Health Personalized Precision Medicine" out of her home in Thompson, North Dakota, to bring pharmacogenomics to the region. Pharmacogenomics is essentially the study of DNA to determine how an individual will respond to their medications. The service is covered by Medicare and Medicaid.

McKay should have enough formula for another week and a half to feed her infant son, but obtaining new formula comes on a week-to-week basis. At any given time before the shortage, she would have 25 or more cans stocked at home. She currently only has six.

“Whenever we’d see a mom that really needs one and we're (in) town, we’d spare her can if we were able to,” McKay said. “We aren't able to now, because we're down to so (few cans). But we were able to help out with a big can and a couple small cans back about a month ago.”

McKay is relatively optimistic about the prospects of more formula hitting the shelves in the next eight weeks with the Abbot factory in Sturgis resuming production.

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“I would just tell everyone to keep their heads up,” McKay said.

Related Topics: LOCAL BUSINESS
Jacob Holley joined the Grand Forks Herald as its business reporter in June 2021.

Holley's beat at the Grand Forks Herald is broad and includes a variety of topics, including small business, national trends and more.

Readers can reach Holley at jholley@gfherald.com.Follow him on Twitter @JakeHolleyMedia.
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