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Additional infant options from nonprofit, government open up for SC families amid formula shortage

Infant formula is still hard to come by in many parts of the country, including in South...
Infant formula is still hard to come by in many parts of the country, including in South Carolina, but the White House reports help has now arrived, with more on the way.(MUSC)
Published: May. 23, 2022 at 7:12 PM EDT|Updated: May. 23, 2022 at 8:20 PM EDT
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CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - Infant formula is still hard to come by in many parts of the country, including in South Carolina, but the White House reports help has now arrived, with more on the way.

According to the White House, 78,000 pounds of infant formula arrived in Indiana on Sunday, on the first of multiple military flights expected soon from Europe to try to curb the nationwide shortage through “Operation Fly Formula.”

The federal government said that first shipment contained enough formula to fill more than half-a-million bottles.

Also on Sunday, President Joe Biden announced the first two authorizations intended to boost domestic formula production through the Defense Production Act.

Those federal authorizations allow two formula manufacturers, Abbott and Reckitt, to receive priority from suppliers to increase their production and get more formula on shelves.

Once it is stocked in stores, another change Biden recently signed into law through the “Access to Baby Formula Act of 2022″ should help lower-income families access formula through the Women, Infants, and Children Nutrition Program, also known as WIC, which is run through DHEC in South Carolina.

“We think that these waivers that USDA has given us will be instrumental in regard to infant formula shortages,” State WIC Director Berry Kelly said.

Under normal circumstances, people enrolled in WIC can only purchase formula from a single manufacturer, the one with which their state has a contract.

In South Carolina, that manufacturer is Nestle, which produces Gerber-brand formula.

But this change allows the families of WIC infants, more than 22,000 of them in South Carolina, to purchase any formula they can find on the shelves.

“They need to talk to their medical provider to make sure that formula is OK for that child, as I stated earlier, but they have the flexibility to buy formula that is currently available,” Kelly said.

Where it is unavailable, others are stepping in.

The nonprofit Mother’s Milk Bank of South Carolina, developed through MUSC, provides breast milk donations to NICUs around the state for high-risk babies.

But the bank has recently received so many donations during this formula shortage that it is now making safe breast milk available for South Carolina families to purchase with a pediatrician’s prescription.

“It goes through a very rigorous screening testing process to ensure that milk is safe, the quality of milk is safe,” Milk Bank Medical Director Dr. Alison Chapman said, noting that includes a thorough questionnaire for mothers who are donating about their lifestyle and medications, along with sign-off from their doctors and a blood test.

Once the milk arrives to the bank from nearly 30 drop-off depots around the state, it is pasteurized and processed, then tested for bacteria.

At $20 per each four-ounce bottle, the bank said this likely is not a permanent solution for most families, and supply for sale depends on how much milk the NICUs need.

But staff believe it could help tide families over until more choices for babies are available again.

“With so many parents struggling during this formula shortage, we hope this will help alleviate some stress and give families another safe option in their search,” Bank Manager Lindsay Millonzi said. “We had a family pick up milk this morning and just were in tears that we were able to offer this option and help take that stress off of them.”

The bank said it does not profit off sales, but that money goes toward testing, supplies, staffing, and other costs.

Purchases from the milk bank would need to be picked up from the bank’s location in North Charleston.

Families interested in purchasing should visit the bank’s website and fill out the “Get Involved” section or call 843-792-5415 between 9 a.m. and 4 p.m. Monday through Friday.

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