Baby formula arrives in Indianapolis from Germany on US military aircraft to address critical need

Originally Published: 22 MAY 22 10:22 ET

Updated: 22 MAY 22 12:17 ET

By Polo Sandoval and Samantha Beech, CNN

(CNN) -- A shipment of 35 tons of baby formula has arrived Sunday in Indianapolis on a US military aircraft from Germany to address a nationwide shortage.

The prescription formula will be distributed to areas around the country where there is the most acute need, a Biden administration official earlier told CNN.

The shipment includes 132 pallets of formula, which arrived on one C-17 cargo plane. The formula originated from Zurich, Switzerland, and was trucked to Germany, where it was loaded on the C-17 and flown to the US. Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack greeted the arrival of the shipment Sunday.

The Biden administration official told CNN earlier that the product contained in the first shipment will be distributed to hospitals, doctors, home health care facilities and pharmacies in regions "where the needs are most acute."

The official said that none of the first shipment would land on store shelves in the US, adding that the formula being shipped Sunday is hypoallergenic and will be fed to babies intolerant of protein in cow milk.

The aircraft transported pallets of Nestlé Health Science formula -- including Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior. At the site of the arrival in Indianapolis on Sunday, a Nestlé spokesperson said, "Some cases are ready for distribution in the next couple of days. Others will be released into the supply chain after standard quality testing is completed."

The shipment comes as the shortage of baby formula has caused major disruptions and frustration for some desperate American families. Already, some families have begun rationing their supply of formula, while others have turned to hospitals when they can't find the kind they need.

And in a clear sign of the deep effects of the crisis, a doctor at Le Bonheur Children's Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee, said last week that he admitted two young patients -- a toddler and a preschooler -- because the specialty formula they need is out of stock and they haven't been able to tolerate any replacements.

And clinical dietitians at Medical University of South Carolina Shawn Jenkins Children's Hospital in Charleston have reported that at least four babies were recently hospitalized for complications related to the ongoing formula shortage, according to a spokesperson for MUSC.

The spokesperson said three of the four babies were hospitalized due to intolerance of formula that parents had to try because of shortages, while one was sickened by mineral imbalances from caregivers mixing their own formula.

The baby formula shortage has thrown the White House into crisis mode and opened yet another political wound going into an already challenging midterm election season, frustrating the West Wing and the rest of the administration as they struggle with how little control they have over a situation that is centered at the US Food and Drug Administration, an independent agency that the White House neither controls nor gets direct reports from.

Officials have faced criticism that the FDA moved too slowly to address warning signs. At the same time, they have been attempting to learn whether formula companies are actually short on ingredients, while also trying to tackle potential price gouging.

President Joe Biden earlier Sunday touted the first flight from his administration's baby formula airlift operation on Twitter.

"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. Our team is working around the clock to get safe formula to everyone who needs it," Biden said on Twitter.

National Economic Council director Brian Deese told CNN's Dana Bash on "State of the Union" on Sunday that as part of the airlift operation, more flights with baby formula "will be coming in early this week."

"We're going to keep ramping that up until we get there," Deese said.

Pressed by Bash on how the US ended up in a position in which baby formula has to be airlifted into the country, Deese in part blamed market consolidation.

"It goes back to this question of how we can bring more competition in our economy, have more providers have this formula so that no individual company has this much control over supply chains," he said.

The Biden administration official told CNN earlier that the product was coming from a factory that has already gone through US FDA approval -- meaning US inspectors would only need to conduct "spot checks" Sunday after the product lands. Those checks include ensuring that the product was not damaged in transit and has appropriate labeling. An FDA inspector is onsite to conduct the spot check. Separately, Nestlé will conduct its own quality check at its local distribution site.

From Indianapolis, FedEx partners will assist with sorting and distribution, the official said.

Additionally, the Biden administration is engaged in conversations with makers of other European baby formula to approve and obtain excess supplies for US distribution, the administration official told CNN.

Indianapolis was chosen as the arrival site for the formula because the Nestlé distribution site is located there. The official added that the administration is plugging into the existing distribution chain.

"We're turning a two-week process into 72 hours," the official said.

This story and headline have been updated.

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