WASHINGTON (NewsNation) — President Joe Biden met with infant formula manufacturers Wednesday, acknowledging the strain shortages have caused on families nationwide.
Updates out of Washington are encouraging, but on the ground in many cities, it is still hit or miss. Frustration is still fairly rampant all over the country as limited supplies are locked up on shelves and customers are limited to five units per purchase.
“It’s just very difficult to find … and of course, she’s only eight months so she can’t drink regular milk,” Ohio mother Takara Bibb said. “So, it’s just, it’s rough ’cause I never thought that this type of thing would happen.”
The Biden administration has moved to ease nationwide shortages by importing foreign supplies and using the Defense Production Act to speed domestic production.
The White House said Biden hosted a virtual roundtable with leaders of manufacturers ByHeart, Bubs Australia, Reckitt, Perrigo Co. and Gerber. The list is notable for who isn’t on it: Abbott Nutrition, the company whose Michigan plant was shut down in February over safety concerns, sparking the shortage in the United States.
The Food and Drug Administration began homing in on Abbott’s plant last fall while tracking several bacterial infections in infants who had consumed formula from the facility. The four cases occurred between September and January, causing hospitalizations and two deaths.
After detecting samples of rare but dangerous bacteria in multiple parts of the plant, the FDA closed the facility and Abbott announced a massive recall of its formula on Feb. 17.
U.S. regulators and Abbott announced an agreement last month that would help pave the way for reopening the plant, though production has not restarted.
The White House did not respond to a request for comment on why Abbott was not included in Wednesday’s meeting.
According to Datasembly, the first notable spike in out-of-stock formula was late last year and things have steadily worsened all this year.
The most recent snapshot indicates a 70% shortage.
The problem is especially dire for families like the Endrizzis in Chicago. Their 4-year-old son Greyson requires a specialized PKU formula, which was also impacted by the Abbott shutdown.
“He has one packet left for today, he’s supposed to take five a day,” Greyson’s mother, Kim Endrizzi, said. “We’ve already rationed what we had down to three a day. This is a medical prescription, so it’s like somebody taking half a dose of their prescription, basically.”
“This is my son’s brain,” she continued. “And we go day by day not knowing if he’s going to have his medicine to protect his brain. It’s awful.”
The White House said the third round of formula shipments from overseas will begin next week, from producer Kendamil in Britain. Shipments from Bubs Australia will be delivered next week as well.
The White House said the latest round of shipments would bring Kendamil formula from Heathrow Airport in London to U.S. airports over a three-week period, starting June. 9. The flights will carry about 3.7 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents, shipped free of charge by United Airlines.
The first shipments will include Kendamil Classic Stage 1 and Kendamil Organic formulas, which will be available at Target stores across the United States.
Bubs Australia will ship the equivalent of 4.6 million 8-ounce bottles of its infant formula on Defense Department-contracted commercial aircraft from its hub in Melbourne, Australia, to Pennsylvania and California on June 9 and June 11, respectively.
While “Operation Fly Formula” is beginning to make inroads, countless parents are still in crisis mode.
The administration’s measures to import formula from overseas and deploy a production law to require formula suppliers to prioritize their orders will help, but won’t immediately bring an end to formula supply shortages that have left people who depend on formula facing empty shelves or limits on purchases.
And for those in need of PKU formula, help can’t come soon enough.
“There’s nothing more stressful than feeling you can’t get what your child needs,” Biden said, adding that as a “father and a grandfather,” he understands how difficult the shortages have been for parents and their children.