Food and Drug Administration (FDA) Commissioner Robert Califf announced on Thursday that the baby formula shortage plaguing the United States will not end until later this summer.
The low supply of baby formula has been worsening for months, leading to multiple hospitalizations among children and elevated prices for parents. In testimony to the Senate’s Health, Education, Labor and Pensions Committee, Califf said that he expects a “gradual improvement up to probably somewhere around two months until the shelves are replete again,” according to CNBC.
Abbott Nutrition — which initiated a recall of several baby formula products from its Sturgis, Michigan, plant earlier this year — announced on Tuesday that it would restart work at the facility on June 4, CNN reported. Consumers will have access to batches of new formula around June 20.
The FDA found standing water, roof leaks, bacteria growths, and inadequate hygiene in Abbott’s plant. “We knew that ceasing plant operations would create supply problems but we had no choice given the insanitary conditions,” Califf told lawmakers.
Abbott CEO Robert Ford apologized on Saturday in a Washington Post opinion piece, telling the nation that “the past few months have distressed us as they have you.”
“And so I want to say: We’re sorry to every family we’ve let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation’s baby formula shortage,” he wrote.
“We believe our voluntary recall was the right thing to do,” Ford continued. “We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children. The data collected during the investigation, genetic sequencing, retained product samples and available product from the four complaints did not find any connection between our products and the four reported illnesses in children. However, the FDA’s investigation did discover a bacteria in our plant that we will not tolerate. I have high expectations of this company, and we fell short of them.”
Ford especially mourned the shortage of EleCare — a formula for children who are unable to digest other products — and vowed to prioritize its production once manufacturing resumes. In the meantime, Abbott launched a $5 million fund to aid parents whose children have been hospitalized due to the shortage.
“I will not mince words — this is tragic and heartbreaking, and it is consuming my thoughts and those of my colleagues,” Ford added.
According to a report released by Datasembly last month, the out-of-stock rate for baby formula surged to 23% by January and 31% by April.
“Inflation, supply chain shortages, and product recalls have brought an unprecedented amount of volatility for baby formula,” Datasembly CEO Ben Reich said in the report. “We expect to continue to see the baby formula category being dramatically affected by these conditions.”
President Biden is attempting to resolve the baby formula shortage with “Operation Fly Formula,” through which the military is importing the product from Europe.
“Folks, I’m excited to tell you that the first flight from Operation Fly Formula is loaded up with more than 70,000 pounds of infant formula and about to land in Indiana,” Biden tweeted on Sunday. “Our team is working around the clock to get safe formula to everyone who needs it.”
The shipment of baby formula that arrived on Sunday will be distributed across the country. The formula in the initial load is bound for hospitals, doctors, home health care facilities, and pharmacies in regions with the most serious needs.