President Biden has OK’d the airlift of more than 8 million bottles of baby formula via a series of flights from London and Australia over the coming weeks, the White House announced Wednesday — as the shortage of product in the US shows no sign of easing.
Moments before Biden convened a meeting of infant formula manufacturers, the administration announced two flights commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services would bring the equivalent of 4.6 million 8-oz. bottles of Bubs Australia formula to the US from Down Under.
However, the White House acknowledged the planes aren’t ready to lift off just yet and won’t reach their destinations in Pennsylvania until June 9 and California until June 11.
Earlier Wednesday, the administration announced the equivalent of 3.7 million bottles of Kendamil infant formula would be flown to America from London’s Heathrow Airport — but those flights wouldn’t begin until June 9, either.
The administration described the imports as the third and fourth “operation” of Biden’s Operation Fly Formula, launched last month as parents grew desperate amid widespread formula shortages.
Meanwhile, the crisis shows no sign of abating. The Wall Street Journal, citing the research firm IRI, reported Wednesday that 23% of powdered baby formula was out of stock during the week ending May 22, compared with a 21% out-of-stock rate during the previous week. The normal out-of-stock range prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to the outlet, was between 5% and 7%.
According to IRI, states most affected by the shortage are concentrated in the West, Midwest and South — including Montana, Utah, Kansas, Texas, Georgia, Tennessee, Kentucky, West Virginia and Minnesota.
The FDA last month allowed foreign imports of baby formula by waiving onerous labeling requirements, which contributed to about 98% of the pre-crisis supply being domestically sourced from three companies.
The shortage began with the February closure of an Abbott Nutrition factory in Michigan over safety concerns. Two infant deaths were believed to be linked to bacterial contamination at the plant, but an investigation ultimately failed to confirm a link, authorities said.
The increasingly empty shelves for formula became a political issue when Republicans accused the Biden administration of not doing enough to prevent the shortages.
On Tuesday, NBC News reported that Biden had only received an initial briefing about the baby formula shortage within the past month despite the plant closure happening several weeks earlier, a fact which purportedly “annoyed” the president.
Last week, Biden’s own FDA Commissioner, Robert Califf, told lawmakers that a whistleblower report detailing unsanitary practices at the Michigan Abbott facility was lost in the FDA’s mailroom for months due to what Califf called a “technical issue.”
Separately, Califf acknowledged that the agency’s response to the shortage was ““too slow and there were decisions that were suboptimal along the way.”