The prescription formula will be distributed to areas around the country where there is the most acute need, a Biden administration official earlier told CNN. But the official said none of the first shipment would land on store shelves in the US, adding that Sunday’s shipment is hypoallergenic and will be fed to babies intolerant of protein in cow milk.
The shipment included 132 pallets of formula, which arrived on one C-17 cargo plane. The formula originated from Zurich, Switzerland, and was trucked to Germany, where it was loaded on the C-17 and flown to the US.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack, who greeted the arrival of the delivery in Indianapolis, said Sunday’s shipment — the first of Operation Fly Formula — would provide enough formula for 9,000 babies and 18,000 toddlers for one week.
“It is a large shipment of very specific and specialized formula. Formula for moms and dads who have children who have allergies where the regular formula just simply will not work,” the secretary said at a news conference in Indianapolis shortly after the shipment landed.
The Biden administration official told CNN earlier that the product contained in the first shipment will be distributed to hospitals, doctors, home health care facilities and pharmacies in regions “where the needs are most acute.”
The aircraft on Sunday transported pallets of Nestlé Health Science formula — including Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior. At the site of the arrival in Indianapolis, a Nestlé spokesperson said, “Some cases are ready for distribution in the next couple of days. Others will be released into the supply chain after standard quality testing is completed.”
The White House announced later Sunday that the second flight of Operation Fly Formula, which includes “114 pallets of Gerber Good Start® Extensive HA infant formula,” was expected to “take place in the coming days.”
The White House said the “total amount of formula arriving in the first round of Operation Fly Formula” is the equivalent of 1.5 million doses of eight-ounce bottles.
Separately, the Biden administration on Sunday evening announced the first two Defense Production Act authorizations for infant formula amid the ongoing nationwide formula shortage. The two “priority orders,” the administration said, are Reckitt and Abbott Nutrition, the baby formula manufacturer at the heart of a nationwide formula recall. The authorizations would allow those companies to urgently receive materials such as sugar, corn syrup, filters, which help make formula.
Frustration for American families
Clinical dietitians at Medical University of South Carolina Shawn Jenkins Children’s Hospital in Charleston have reported that at least four babies were recently hospitalized for complications related to the ongoing formula shortage, according to a spokesperson for MUSC.
The spokesperson said three of the four babies were hospitalized due to intolerance of formula that parents had to try because of shortages, while one was sickened by mineral imbalances from caregivers mixing their own formula.
On Sunday, New York City Mayor Eric Adams declared a state of emergency over the nationwide shortage of the supply of infant formula.
A statement from his office said the move would “empower the New York City Department of Consumer and Worker Protection (DCWP) to prevent price gouging for formula.”
Retailers nationwide have been struggling to keep shelves fully stocked as supply chain problems persist, slowing down both production and distribution of goods.
Officials have faced criticism that the FDA moved too slowly to address warning signs. At the same time, they have been attempting to learn whether formula companies are actually short on ingredients, while also trying to tackle potential price gouging.
Vilsack said in Indianapolis on Sunday that the federal government is working with suppliers of baby formula in the US to increase production and address the nationwide shortage.
The agriculture secretary also said an agreement with the FDA would allow the Abbott facility and others to “jump ahead of line for the necessary supplies that are necessary and required in order to produce the formula.”
More flights expected
“We’re going to keep ramping that up until we get there,” Deese said.
Pressed by Bash on how the US ended up in a position in which baby formula has to be airlifted into the country, Deese in part blamed market consolidation.
“It goes back to this question of how we can bring more competition in our economy, have more providers have this formula so that no individual company has this much control over supply chains,” he said.
The Biden administration official told CNN earlier that the product was coming from a factory that has already gone through US FDA approval — meaning US inspectors would only need to conduct “spot checks” Sunday after the product lands. Those checks include ensuring that the product was not damaged in transit and has appropriate labeling. An FDA inspector was onsite to conduct the spot check. Separately, Nestlé is also going to conduct its own quality check at its local distribution site.
“This shipment is essentially going to get off this cargo plane, then the Federal Express folks are going to take it from there, they are going to deliver it to a distribution center that the Nestlé Gerber folks have here in Indiana, and then it’s going to go on trucks and it’s going to be delivered in hospitals and home health care clinics across the country, providing support and help,” Vilsack said Sunday.
Additionally, the Biden administration is engaged in conversations with makers of other European baby formula to approve and obtain excess supplies for US distribution, the administration official told CNN.
Indianapolis was chosen as the arrival site for the formula because the Nestlé distribution site is located there. The official added that the administration is plugging into the existing distribution chain.
“We’re turning a two-week process into 72 hours,” the official said.
This story and headline have been updated for additional developments.
CLARIFICATION: A previous version of this story mischaracterized the timeline of the first round of Operation Fly Formula’s arrival in the United States.
CNN’s Sam Fossum, Kaitlan Collins, Brenda Goodman, Nadia Kounang, Jen Christensen, Parija Kavilanz, Ramishah Maruf and Zachary B. Wolf contributed to this report.