Formula shortage: Abbott plant reopening, Biden offers support, Suffolk launches emergency effort

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Wednesday, May 18, 2022
Long Island officials try to ease fears amid baby formula shortage
Kristin Thorne reports from Patchogue on the baby formula shortage as maker Abbott reaches a deal with regulators to restart production at the shuttered Michigan plant.

PATCHOGUE, Long Island (WABC) -- President Joe Biden is helping baby formula manufacturers and major retailers with logistic support to get formula into the country, according to a White House official, and also attempting to identify areas where communities may be at "critically low supply."

It comes on the same day formula maker Abbott said it's reached an agreement with U.S. health officials to restart production.

Abbott did not immediately detail the terms of the agreement reached with the FDA, which has been investigating safety problems at the Sturgis, Michigan, facility. The consent decree is a binding legal agreement between the company and the federal government.

After production resumes, Abbott has said it will take at least eight weeks to begin shipping new product to stores.

Kristin Thorne reports from Patchogue on the baby formula shortage as maker Abbott reaches a deal with regulators to restart production at the shuttered Michigan plant.

Meantime, the White House is working with Abbott and other formula makers Reckitt, Nestle/Gerber and Perrigo "to work with them to identify transportation, logistical, and supplier hurdles to increasing production of formula."

They are also communicating with retailers like Target, Amazon, Walmart and others "to identify parts of the country that may be at risk of critically low supply of infant formula, and have offered to work with manufacturers and retailers to bring more formula to those parts of the country, including with US government transportation and logistics support."

The official said they are also contacting formula suppliers to encourage them to "prioritize their production and delivery."

RELATED | Baby formula given away on Long Island to help families struggling with supply shortage

A community organization on Long Island gave away free baby formula Wednesday to help families struggling with the nationwide formula shortage.

On Long Island Monday, Suffolk County Legislator Dominick Thorne was joined by Island Harvest Food Bank President and CEO Randi Shubin Dresner, physicians from Northwell Health, Long Island Head Start Director of Infant/Toddler Services Dawn Melchiona and members of the Suffolk County Legislature to announce an emergency effort to collect unopened or donated baby formula.

The drastic shortage of baby formula has parents of young children scrambling to find formula or, in some cases, using the dangerous practice of watering down formula to increase their supply.

"This shortage has created a real crisis in many homes, many communities, especially minority and low income neighborhoods," Thorne said.

Some Suffolk County Legislator's district offices will act as drop-off locations for formula donations, which will then be given to Island Harvest Food Bank for distribution.

Anyone able to donate formula can call Island Harvest at 631-873-4775. CLICK HERE to find your local legislator.

In Nassau County, Congressman Tom Suozzi called on President Joe Biden to invoke the Defense Production Act to increase production of baby formula.

"Raising a newborn is already a difficult and stressful job for any parent, but not being able to find the appropriate formula in this country is unacceptable," he said. "We need to immediately invoke the Defense Production Act to address this crisis and provide relief to struggling families."

The formula shortage stems from a February recall by Abbott, the nation's largest formula maker, that shuttered the company's Michigan plant and exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions among formula makers, leaving fewer options on stores shelves across much of the country. The shortage has led retailers like CVS and Target to limit how many containers customers can purchase per visit and forced some parents to swap and sell formula online.

The FDA warned families against making their own baby formula because it has 30 distinct constituents that have to be in the right amount, otherwise the formula can possibly be dangerous to consume.

Abbott's voluntary recall was triggered by four illnesses reported in babies who had consumed powdered formula from the Michigan plant. All four infants were hospitalized with a rare type of bacterial infection and two died.

After a six-week inspection, FDA investigators published a list of problems in March, including lax safety and sanitary standards and a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant.

RELATED | Homemade baby formula could be dangerous: What parents can do amid shortage

Experts warn against making your own baby formula and diluting baby formula if your supply is low.

FDA inspectors visited the factory in September for a routine inspection, around the time that the first bacterial infection was reported in an infant. Although inspectors uncovered several violations- including standing water and unsanitary conditions- the FDA did not shut down the plant or issue any formal warning.

Only after several more illnesses were reported did the FDA return to the plant in January, this time finding a history of bacterial contamination in several parts of the plant. Abbott then shut down the facility and recalled several powdered formulas in mid-February.

Congresswoman Rosa DeLauro reported last month that a whistleblower had contacted the FDA in September about unsafe conditions and practices at the plant, including falsifying plant records and failing to properly test formula for contamination.

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)


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