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President Biden said Wednesday that he was not aware of the severity of then-prospective nationwide infant formula shortages until April.
He told reporters that he was not briefed on possible shortages for about two months – even as company executives said Wednesday that they had known about the “general impact” the mid-February shutdown of Abbott Nutrition’s Michigan production plant would have on the U.S. supply immediately.
Abbott was not in attendance at the virtual White House roundtable.
“They did, but I didn’t,” the president explained.
“Well, here’s the deal. I became aware of this problem some time in — after April — in early April, about how intense it was,” he continued. “And so, we did everything in our power from that point on, and that’s all I can tell you right now. And we’re going to continue to do it until we get the job done.”
White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre claimed the Biden administration worked to address the closure within a matter of days, but could not explain the delay in communication with the president.
She noted that he is “frustrated” by the nationwide formula shortages.
“We have been doing this whole of government approach since the recall,” Jean-Pierre said. “We have been working on this for months, for months. We have been taking this incredibly seriously.”
The press secretary added that the president was satisfied with how the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has handled the response, although FDA Commissioner Robert Califf told lawmakers last week that the agency’s response was “too slow” and that there were “suboptimal” decisions made.
The White House’s “Operation Fly Formula” is being used to import formula and the Defense Production Act has been utilized to hasten domestic production of infant formula – steps that did not begin until mid-May.
The third and fourth rounds of shipments will begin next week, bringing about 3.7 million 8-ounce bottle equivalents of Kendamil baby formula from London shipped free by United Airlines.
Bubs Australia will ship the equivalent of 4.6 million 8-ounce bottles of its infant formula to be delivered to the U.S. by next week.
U.S. regulators and Abbott announced an agreement last month that would help pave the way for reopening the plant,.
It remains unclear when that will happen, as the company and FDA have offered conflicting timelines, according to Politico.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.