(CNN) — A 35-ton shipment of infant formula arrived in Indianapolis on Sunday on a US military plane from Germany to address shortages across the country.
The prescription formula will be distributed in areas across the country where the need is most critical, an official with the Joe Biden administration previously told CNN. However, the official said that none of the first shipment would reach US store shelves, adding that Sunday’s shipment is hypoallergenic and will feed babies who are intolerant of cow’s milk protein.
The shipment included 132 pallets of formula, which arrived on a C-17 cargo plane. The formula originated in Zurich, Switzerland, and was trucked to Germany, where it was loaded onto the C-17 and brought to the US by air.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who welcomed the delivery’s arrival in Indianapolis, said Sunday’s shipment would provide enough formula for 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for a week.
“It’s a big shipment of very specific, specialized formula. Formula for moms and dads who have kids who have allergies where regular formula just doesn’t work,” the secretary said at a news conference in Indianapolis shortly after the shipment landed.
The Biden administration official earlier told CNN that the product contained in the first shipment will be distributed to hospitals, physicians, home health care facilities and pharmacies in the regions “where the needs are most critical.”
The plane was carrying pallets of Nestlé Health Science formula, including Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior. At the site of the arrival in Indianapolis on Sunday, a Nestle spokesman said: “Some boxes are ready for distribution in the next few days. Others will be released into the supply chain after standard quality testing is complete.”
Frustration for American families
The shipment comes as a shortage of infant formula has caused widespread upheaval and frustration for some desperate American families. Some families have already started rationing their supply of formula, while others turn to hospitals when they can’t find the kind they need.
And in a clear sign of the deep effects of the crisis, a doctor at Le Bonheur Children’s Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, said last week that he admitted two young patients — a toddler and a preschooler — because the special formula they need is out of stock and they have been unable to tolerate any replacement.
Clinical dieticians at Shawn Jenkins Hospital for Children at the Medical University of South Carolina in Charleston reported that at least four infants were recently hospitalized for complications related to formula shortages, according to a MUSC spokesperson.
The spokesman said that three of the four babies were hospitalized due to intolerance to the milk formula that parents had to try due to shortages, while one became ill due to mineral imbalances from caregivers who mixed their own formula.
This Sunday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency due to a national shortage of infant formula supplies.
A statement from his office said the move “would empower the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) to prevent formula price gouging.”
The shortage of infant formula put the White House in crisis mode and opened another political wound heading into an already challenging midterm election season, frustrating the West Wing and the rest of the administration as they struggle with what little control they have over a situation that is focused on the US Food and Drug Administration (FDA), an independent agency that the White House neither controls nor receives direct reports.
Officials face criticism that the FDA moved too slowly to address the warning signs. At the same time, they’re trying to figure out if formula companies actually have ingredient shortages, as well as trying to address potential price gouging.
Vilsack said in Indianapolis on Sunday that the federal government is working with U.S. infant formula suppliers to increase production and address shortages across the country.
He said the government is working to help get Abbott’s Michigan facilities up and running, through help from the Defense Production Act. Infant formula maker Abbott Nutrition is the company at the heart of a nationwide formula recall.
The agriculture secretary also said an agreement with the FDA would allow Abbott facilities and others to “get ahead of the queue to get the supplies needed and required to produce the formula.”
More flights expected
Earlier Sunday, President Joe Biden promoted the first flight of his administration’s baby formula airlift operation on Twitter.
“Friends, I’m excited to tell you that the first flight of Operation Fly Formula is loaded with over 70,000 pounds of infant formula and is about to land in Indiana. Our team is working day and night to bring safe formula to everyone who needs it.” they need”, Biden said on Twitter.
National Economic Council Director Brian Deese told CNN’s Dana Bash on “State of the Union” on Sunday that, as part of the airlift operation, more flights with infant formula “will arrive in early This week”.
“We’re going to keep ramping that up until we get there,” Deese said.
Pressed by Bash about how the United States ended up in a position where baby formula has to be airlifted into the country, Deese blamed market consolidation in part.
“It goes back to this question of how can we bring more competition into our economy, get more suppliers to have this formula so that no single company has as much control over supply chains,” he said.
The Biden administration official previously told CNN that the product came from a factory that has already gone through US FDA approval, meaning US inspectors would only have to conduct “random checks” this Sunday. after the product landed. Those checks include making sure the product has not been damaged in transit and is properly labeled. An FDA inspector was on site to perform the spot check. Separately, Nestlé will also carry out its own quality control at its local distribution site.
“This shipment will essentially come off this cargo plane, then the Federal Express folks will take it from there, deliver it to a distribution center that the Nestle Gerber folks have here in Indiana, and then it’s off to go on trucks and will deliver to hospitals and home health clinics across the country, providing support and help,” Vilsack said Sunday.
In addition, the Biden administration is engaged in talks with manufacturers of other European infant formula to approve and obtain excess supplies for distribution in the United States, the administration official told CNN.
Indianapolis was chosen as the arrival site for the formula because Nestlé’s distribution site is located there. The official added that the administration is connecting to the existing distribution chain.
“We are turning a two-week process into 72 hours,” the official said.
CNN’s Sam Fossum, Kaitlan Collins, Brenda Goodman, Nadia Kounang and Jen Christensen contributed to this report.