Operation Fly Formula fails as White House intervention fails to fill store shelves

A month after President Biden invoked the Defense Production Act to import emergency supplies of infant formula, store shelves are still half-empty and brands shipped by US military planes from other countries are yet to help many families struggling to find essential specialty brands.

The US government started a month ago importing infant formula from Switzerland, the UK and elsewhere. He launched Operation Fly Formula to address a shortage triggered by the COVID-19 pandemic, a major formula recall and an FDA decision to shut down one of the country’s major formula production plants for several months in citing health violations.

Despite government intervention, many families with infants are still desperately looking for their next box of formula. They’ve had to rely on social media groups to find out when store shelves are restocked or to buy from people selling or swapping a can or two.

Madisyn Pappion, who lives in Tampa, drove more than 80 miles on Sunday to get two 12-ounce boxes of powdered Nutramigen, an infant formula designed for babies with milk allergies that has been hard to find.

Ms. Pappion has no choice but to embark on an almost daily hunt.

Her six-month-old daughter is reacting with rashes and other severe allergy symptoms to milk formulas. Her pediatrician advised against trying to substitute Nutramigen with another dairy-free brand because the formulation is different.

The two canisters Ms Pappion secured on Sunday will last around six days.

“It’s scary, because I can feed her something else?” said Madame Pappion.

Ms. Pappion belongs to about 10 “formula finder” pages on Facebook, where parents alert each other to newly stocked store shelves, or offer to sell, trade or give away hard-to-find formulas.

For a time, her baby survived on sample boxes.

“I wasn’t able to actually buy it in a store,” Ms Pappion said.

The shortage of infant formula began in February.

Food and Drug Administration officials said it could take months more before the shortage subsides. To help fill the void, President Biden in May invoked the Defense Production Act to help US factories increase production. Mr Biden launched the formula delivery plan from overseas on May 20.

The White House announced that as of June 19, Operation Fly Formula had imported nearly 13 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents of infant formula.

On Monday, a shipment of Kendamil formula arrived in Boston on a flight from the United Kingdom, where it is produced. Kendamil is now available online and on shelves at Target and other retailers. The United States also allows imports of Australia’s Bubs Infant Formula, which can now be purchased online at Walmart and Kroger.

However, much of the emergency supply of specialty formulas imported by the United States in recent weeks has not been stocked on store shelves, and popular non-dairy formulas remain hard to find or in very short supply. amount.

An Operation Fly Formula shipment that arrived on June 16 from Switzerland, for example, included 44,000 pounds of Nestle Health Science Alfamino and Alfamin Junior specialty infant formula.

The administration said the bulk of the supply, aimed at infants with difficulty digesting or absorbing nutrition, will only be available “through a distribution pipeline,” which serves hospitals, home health businesses and Women, Infant and Children, or WIC programs, which serve low-income families.

A spokesperson for the Department of Health and Human Services did not respond to a request for further details on the distribution of specialty formulas.

Florida Department of Health officials said WIC programs in the state did not receive any infant formula.

“The federal government has not informed Florida of anything regarding Operation Fly Formula, nor has it provided any updates on the destination of these shipments,” said Jeremy Redfern, spokesman for the Department of Health in Florida. Florida.

Store shelves across the United States remain half-empty, with stockpiles of popular specialty formulas including Nutramigen, Gerber Extensive HA and Enfamil products such as Neuropro either out of stock or in limited quantities, in especially in powder form.

Shoppers at a Target store in Union Township, New Jersey, were greeted with a sign informing them of a four-container limit on infant formula purchases “due to high demand and limited inventory.”

The store, about 20 miles west of New York, had plenty of Similac 360 Total Care, a liquid form sold in six packs.

The bottom shelf, intended for containers of powder from Similac and other brands, was empty Monday morning except for three boxes of a Target-brand powdered formula for toddlers.

The store had Similac NeoSure in stock for babies born prematurely.

A few miles away, a CVS store in Maplewood, New Jersey, directed customers to “ASK A STAFF MEMBER FOR BABY FOOD.”

Some of the supply is kept behind the counter due to the shortage. Trucks have brought a trickle of Similac and Enfagrow, a formula for toddlers, in recent days.

The FDA-shutdown plant in Sturgis, Michigan is operated by Abbott Nutrition, which produces much of the nation’s supply of Similac, America’s most popular formula brand. The plant also produced many specialty formulas for infants with metabolic issues and other critical dietary needs.

The FDA shut down the plant in February, citing health violations, and after more than three months and a worsening formula shortage, the Justice Department reached a legal agreement with Abbott to reopen the plant in June.

But major flooding last week shut down the plant again, which will delay production of specialty formulas by weeks, Abbott officials said, and further delay production of other popular products such as Similac Alimentum. , a formula for babies like Mrs. Pappion’s daughter, who have an intolerance to cow’s milk protein.

Sofia Silva, mother of 10-month-old Oliver, said she hoped the formula supply would improve in Tampa after seeing television images of formula arriving at US airports from overseas.

But Operation Fly Formula didn’t make it easy to find his son’s formula, Enfamil NeuroPro.

“Overall, the shelves are still empty,” Ms. Silva told The Washington Times. “We have seen the first shipments of infant formula arriving by air from overseas, but I haven’t seen anything here for the past few weeks.”

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