The first flights of the Biden administration’s latest effort to expedite baby formula delivery to the US amid a nationwide shortage will include US military aircraft, a White House official says.
Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin has ordered the first flights supporting the newly created Operation Fly Formula program, and they will “depart Ramstein Air Base in Germany over the course of this weekend,” the White House official said.
“Due to the urgency of the situation, these flights will comprise U.S. military aircraft,” the official said.
Using military aircraft for this endeavor is unusual and underscores the urgent nature of the situation.
The administration’s plan going forward is to use commercially contracted aircraft, but none were available this weekend, according to an official. The official promised further updates on the remaining 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA, “which are expected to arrive in the coming days.”
The first flights over the weekend will transport 132 pallets of Nestlé Health Science formula – including Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior – to Indianapolis.
The White House has said these specific formulas have been prioritized because they serve a critical medical purpose and are in short supply in the United States because of the Abbott Nutrition plant closure in Michigan. The FDA has reached an agreement with Abbott Nutrition to reopen the plant, which has been shuttered for months because of contamination issues. The agreement lays out steps the manufacturer must take to restart production at its plant.
The baby formula shortage has thrown the White House into crisis mode and opened yet another political wound going into an already challenging midterm election season, frustrating the West Wing and the rest of the administration as they struggle with how little control they have over a situation that is centered at the US Food and Drug Administration, an independent agency that the White House neither controls nor gets direct reports from.
Officials are now confronting criticism that the FDA moved too slowly to address warning signs. At the same time, they’re attempting to learn whether formula companies are actually short on ingredients, while also trying to tackle potential price gouging.
President Joe Biden on Wednesday announced Operation Fly Formula, which directs the Department of Health and Human Services and the Department of Agriculture to utilize the Defense Department’s commercial planes to import formula from abroad. He also said he would be invoking the Defense Production Act, which allows the government more control over industrial production during emergencies, to direct suppliers of formula ingredients to prioritize delivery to the manufacturers of formula.
Biden’s administration has also taken other steps over the last two weeks to address concerns about a months-long formula shortage, which has parents in different parts of the country scouring stores to feed their children.
The administration established a website last week, HHS.gov/formula, to provide resources to families in need. But when a CNN reporter tested out some of those options, the exercise resulted in apologetic customer service representatives, one hold time that lasted well over an hour and serious challenges in finding baby formula through some of the main suggestions listed on the new HHS website.
This story has been updated with additional details Friday.