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Alaska health department continues facing struggles over recalled baby formula

Alaska health department continues facing struggles over recalled baby formula
Published: Mar. 16, 2022 at 11:36 AM AKDT
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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) - Thursday marks one month since Abbott Nutrition voluntarily recalled Similac PM 60/40 powdered infant formula that had been produced in a Michigan state factory for infant sickness, according to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration.

It resulted in a nationwide recall on the formula, which includes the Similac, Alimentum and EleCare brands. Since then, the Alaska Department of Health and Social Services said they have been working nonstop to tackle the additional baby formula shortage the crisis has caused in the state.

‘It feels like forever,” Liz Walsh, the department’s family nutrition program manager, said. “We’ve been working on this situation nonstop since the recall was announced.”

According to the health department, many of the Women, Infant and Children program, or WIC, venues chose to pull all of the Similac products off their shelves until they were able to verify which cans were safe. This, Walsh said, resulted in shelves being empty and purchasing restrictions to be placed.

“Some stores are limiting the number of cans that parents can buy per visit,” Walsh said.

Walsh said that before the recall, Alaska had already been experiencing a supply shortage in baby formula. Having formula pulled off the shelves overnight due to the recall created a double whammy impact on the availability to the public.

Since then, WIC has opened up its formula options to include additional brands that meet their nutrition standards to help ensure families have access to formulas, in addition to allowing WIC participants in urban communities to use Span Elite, a grocery delivery service, to have formula shipped directly to them.

According to Walsh, this service was previously restricted to just rural communities for WIC stores.

“Span has assured us that they have adequate stock of all of the infant formulas,” Walsh said.

However, Walsh said, despite providing WIC participants with an option to have a mail order formula, they are still facing struggles.

“Even with the options for parents to buy non-Similac formulas, with or without benefits, its still touch and go,” Walsh said.

Walsh indicated that many families still struggle with a lack of trust regarding formulas.

“It’s very difficult for our WIC families to feel that they can trust any Similac products right now,” Walsh said.

According to the state health department, that has now turned into their largest obstacle as they work to find a way to make parents and families feel secure again.

“It’s not just the shortage, it’s the stress, the heartache that parents experience,” Walsh said. “The WIC staff is there for them to help with that and to try and find solutions the best we can.”

Originally, the department said Abbott Nutrition reported to them that they were expecting the supply issue to be resolved by the end of March. That date has now been pushed back to the end of April.

However, Walsh said that the FDA will be providing Alaska grant waivers through Sept. 30, so WIC can provide non-Similac formulas to their participants.

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