President Joe Biden defended his administration’s handling of an ongoing infant formula scarcity, which has sparked outrage among parents and politicians, as well as Republican criticism.
“There’s nothing more critical we’re working on right now, and I believe we’ll be making some real progress very soon,” Biden said from the White House, underscoring how the absence of formula has fast surpassed other administration worries.
“If we had been better mind readers, I suppose we could’ve, but we responded as swiftly as the situation became evident to us,” Biden said of mounting accusations that the White House was sluggish to react to the countrywide shortage that had been developing for months.
Families’ complaints got more frantic this week as they found more empty shelves, with an estimated 43 percent of formula products out of stock at supermarkets throughout the United States as of Sunday, according to data monitoring company Datasembly.
Biden emphasized the White House’s efforts to address supply difficulties on Friday, including extending access to infant formula for WIC participants and launching a new federal website to help caregivers.
As the Food and Drug Administration scrambles to find a way to lift rules to enable more formulas to be imported from overseas, Biden thinks additional formulas may be on the market “in a matter of weeks or less.”
The FDA is anticipated to provide details about its import strategy next week. Given the agency’s regulations on formula packaging and vitamin content, it’s unclear how the imports would operate, however, Commissioner Robert Califf tweeted on Friday that the agency will guarantee imported goods fulfill “particular safety, quality, and labeling criteria.”
“We have to proceed with prudence as well as speed,” Biden added, “because we have to make sure we are obtaining first-rate goods.” “That is why the FDA must follow the procedure.”
A recall by Abbott, one of the country’s leading producers of infant formula products, exacerbated the shortfall, which was exacerbated by larger, coronavirus-related supply chain concerns.
Following bacterial infections linked to two infants who died after consuming Abbott formula and a Food and Drug Administration inspection that documented problems at Abbott’s Michigan facility, including the same bacteria, the company pulled three of its popular brands and closed its plant in Sturgis, Michigan, in February.
(Abbott maintains that there is no proof that their products contributed to the deaths of the newborns, while it has confirmed the FDA’s findings at the facility.)
Although a complaint was made against Abbott in September, the FDA did not inspect the facility until almost four months later.
Republicans haven’t wasted any time in blaming the Biden White House, holding a news conference on the subject on Thursday.
Rep. Elise Stefanik, a New York Republican and new mother, remarked at the news conference, “This is not a Third World nation.” “In the United States, this should never happen.”
In his own floor speech on Thursday, Senate Republican Leader Mitch McConnell addressed the shortfall, calling it “outrageous and intolerable.”
“It seems like President Biden’s administration and the FDA have been sleeping at the switch in terms of bringing manufacturing back online as quickly as feasible,” he said.
Meanwhile, on Capitol Hill, the Democratic majority is conducting its own investigations. Four major formula makers have been asked to provide information to the House Oversight Committee.
“We requested a report at the end of the month and asked three simple questions: Do they have enough supply to fulfill demand? Is there an issue with the supply chain that can be fixed? What can we do to prevent this from happening again?” Carolyn Maloney, D-New York, is the chairwoman of the committee.
A group of 32 Senate Democrats signed a letter on Friday encouraging the Infant Nutrition Council of America, a trade organization for formula producers, to take “urgent action” to alleviate the shortfall, but they didn’t provide any particular recommendations.
“We are urging you and your member firms to act quickly to guarantee that baby formula producers are making every effort to alleviate this hazardous shortfall and provide infants with the nutrition they need,” the senators wrote.
Chairwoman of the House Appropriations Committee, Rosa DeLauro, D-Conn., stated on Wednesday that her committee will investigate the Abbott factory in Michigan, where the bacterium was discovered, as well as the “FDA’s tardy reaction to this horrible tragedy.”
Last month, DeLauro made public a whistleblower complaint in which a former Abbot employee expressed concerns about suspected malfeasance at the site.
Abbott said it expects to resume operations at its Michigan factory within two weeks after receiving FDA approval. The business predicts that it would take another six to eight weeks to get the goods into shops after that.
However, as of March, the FDA stated Abbott’s factory still posed a risk of contamination.
“The factory remains closed while the firm works to rectify deficiencies relating to the processes, methods, and conditions that the FDA observed during its inspection of the facility from January 31 to March 18, 2022,” an FDA official stated.
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Abbott claims that it is striving to resolve the FDA’s concerns so that it may restart operations.
“We are confident that we can continue to manufacture safe, high-quality baby formula at all of our sites,” the firm said in a statement on Friday.