Indianapolis — Enough specialty infant formula for more than half a million baby bottles arrived Sunday in Indianapolis, the first of several flights carrying infant formula from Europe expected this weekend to relieve the deepening shortage in the U.S.
The formula, weighing 78,000 pounds, or 39 tons, was being transported by military plane, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre told reporters aboard Air Force One as President Biden flew from South Korea to Japan.
Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack was in Indianapolis to greet the arrival of the first shipment.
The Biden administration — which has struggled to address a, particularly hypoallergenic varieties — has dubbed the effort "Operation Fly Formula." The crisis follows the in Michigan in February due to safety issues.
"Typically, the process to transport this product from Europe to U.S. would take two weeks. Thanks to Operation Fly Formula, we cut that down to approximately three days," Jean-Pierre said. "This is a testament of the president's commitment to pulling every lever to get more infant formula onto the market. And Operation Fly Formula is one tool that we are using to do so."
The White House has said 132 pallets of Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula was to leave Ramstein Air Base in Germany for the U.S. Another 114 pallets of Gerber Good Start Extensive HA formula were expected to arrive in the coming days. Altogether, about 1.5 million 8-ounce bottles of the three formulas, which are hypoallergenic for children with cow's milk protein allergy, are expected to arrive this week. The flights were authorized by Mr. Biden.
Indianapolis was chosen because it is a Nestlé distribution hub. The formula will be offloaded into FedEx semitractor-trailers and taken to a Nestlé distribution center about a mile away where the company will do a standard quality control check before distributing the supplies to hospitals, pharmacies and doctor's offices, according to an administration official on site.
Mr. Biden said Sunday afternoon that another shipment of Nestlé specialty infant formula would soon arrive in Pennsylvania.
"The flight and trucking will take place in the coming days, and I will continue to keep you updated," he tweeted.
Air Force planes transported the initial batch of formula because no commercial flights were available this weekend.
The flight was the first of several to provide "some incremental relief in the coming days" as the government works on a more lasting response to the shortage, Brian Deese, director of the White House National Economic Council, said Sunday.
Reese told CNN's "State of the Union" that Sunday's flight brought 15% of the specialty medical grade formula needed in the U.S., and because of various actions by the government, people should see "more formula in stores starting as early as this week."
Longer term, he said, the U.S. needs more formula providers "so that no individual company has this much control over supply chains."
Under "Operation Fly Formula," the Department of Agriculture (USDA) and the Department of Health and Human Services are authorized to request Department of Defense support to pick up overseas infant formula that meets U.S. health and safety standards, so it can get to store shelves faster, according to the USDA.
Alfamino is primarily available through hospitals and home health care companies that serve patients at home.
U.S. regulators and the manufacturer, Abbott Nutrition, hope to have its Michigan plant reopened next week, but it will take about two months before product is ready for delivery. The Food and Drug Administration this week eased importation requirements for baby formula to try to ease the supply crunch, which has left store shelves void of some brands and some retailers rationing supply for parents nervous about feeding their children.
On Sunday night, Mr. Biden announced he had invoked the Defense Production Act to allow Abbott and Reckitt, which also manufactures infant formula, to "add legally binding language to their orders with suppliers that will give them priority."
"Abbott can now receive priority orders of raw materials so they can quickly increase production by over one third where it stands today," the president tweeted. "Reckitt can now receive priority orders of consumables like filters which will allow their facilities to operate at maximum capacity."
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