Alissa Korytko is down to her last can of specialized baby formula.
She has been calling pharmacies in and around Hamilton, and even friends living in Buffalo, US, to find more for her eight-month-old, Rylee.
But hypoallergenic baby formula — a specialized baby food for infants with allergies and metabolic issues — is nowhere to be found.
A shortage of hypoallergenic baby formula swept across North America after one of its largest manufacturers, Abbott Laboratories in Michigan, recalled several products — including Similac EleCare, which Korytko feeds her daughter — and closed in February in response to reports of bacterial infections in four US infants. Two died, with a US Food and Drug Administration probe finding the infections may have contributed to their deaths.
Abbott reopened June 4, but was forced to close again less than two weeks later after a severe storm flooded parts of the plant.
Rylee is highly allergic to milk-based baby formula, which causes her to erupt in “horrible” rashes and troubled breathing — an issue that has led to two trips to the hospital.
“It’s definitely scary,” Korytko told The Spectator, noting the dairy-related allergies “are almost similar to psoriasis.”
In an email, Health Canada said it has been “monitoring the availability of specialized infant formula products closely.” It has also put together an interim plan to import baby formula, as well as information for families on how to deal with the shortage.
There is no shortage of regular, milk-based formulas in Canada.
Dr. Nikhil Pai, a pediatric gastroenterologist at McMaster Children’s Hospital, told The Spectator there are a lot of families and health-care providers “struggling” with the shortage.
He said his hospital has fielded phone calls from both patients and other medical practitioners asking how to respond.
As a result, MacKids collaborated with Health Canada, other hospitals and patient support groups to create a list of alternative options, Pai said.
In its latest advisory, Health Canada said pharmacies across the country will start receiving shipments of specialized formulas “starting the first week of July.”
However, it also warned of the limited supply throughout the summer.
Pai said as the stock improves, it’s key to make sure the right patient gets the right formula, “and those who don’t need the specialized formula are given other options.”
Korytko, meanwhile, is still desperately waiting to hear from her pharmacy. Until the formula stock is replenished, she said she will be giving Rylee more solid food like pureed fruits and vegetables.
“The pharmacy had put in an order for two different types of liquid concentrate that hospitals normally use, and we just have to wait to see if they come in,” she said.
Korytko added she can’t breastfeed due to complications during labour, and said it’s hard to find lactose-free breast milk for Rylee — that is, milk from a donor who is on a dairy-free diet.
Experts and Health Canada are reminding parents to not panic, hoard or attempt to make specialized formulas at home. They also say not to dilute formula, and to speak to a family physician about the recommended diet for their infants.