A woman shops for baby formula at Target in Annapolis, Maryland on May 16, 2022 as a nationwide shortage continues ( AFP / Jim WATSON)

Misleading posts promise baby formula for US military families

Copyright AFP 2017-2022. All rights reserved.

Posts shared across Facebook and online networks for US military families claim the health insurance program for service members and veterans will provide baby formula to parents amid ongoing shortages. This is misleading; Tricare only covers formula for children with metabolic disorders and it does not ship directly to parents.

"Due to the baby formula shortage Tricare will now pay to have it shipped directly to you," claims a May 15, 2022 Facebook post.

Screenshot of a Facebook post taken on May 19, 2022

The claim was shared thousands of times as parents in the United States face nationwide shortages of formula products. 

This and other posts include a screenshot of an email sent from a Marine Corps recruiting station in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania.

A spokesman for the station told AFP: "We have determined this was incorrect information, distributed to Marines, spouses and family members in error. Tricare is the authoritative source for all information regarding the benefits they provide."

Tricare -- a health care program of the US Department of Defense Military Health System -- has a note at the top of its website explaining that it "covers formulas and vitamins for enrollees with metabolic disorders." Otherwise healthy infants are not covered. 

Screenshot of the Tricare website taken on May 20, 2022

The program also covers banked donor breast milk for infants with "certain serious health conditions," including if a baby is born prematurely. 

Some posts also shared a form to be completed by a physician and sent to Military Medical Supplies.

However, a disclaimer on its website says: "Tricare formula is only covered with an approved diagnosis for dietary management. During the national shortage, our supply is limited and you may not receive an immediate order. 'We require clinical notes with all prescriptions.'"

A number of Twitter accounts affiliated with the US military have also debunked the claim about Tricare.

Advice for parents

Pediatricians warn against making formula at home or watering it down, but they have offered some advice to parents struggling to find food for babies who are not breastfed.

For children who are six months old and have started eating solids, Tanya Altmann, the author of several parenting books and founder of Calabasas Pediatrics in California, said toddler formula could be introduced.

The American Academy of Pediatrics has also said children of six months and older can be fed whole cow's milk for a few days if formula is unavailable.

Parents are encouraged to switch brands or consider generic formula if possible.

Perrigo, the manufacturer of store-brand formula in the US, confirmed none of its products were involved in the "voluntary recall" by Abbott that shut down a factory in Michigan. The recall exacerbated shortages initially caused by supply chain blockages and a lack of production workers due to the coronavirus pandemic. 

Formula companies Enfamil, Similac, Gerber and Earth's Best also update their websites with real-time store inventory.

AFP Fact Check has debunked other claims about the formula shortage here.