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78,000 pounds of baby formula arrive from overseas; Abbott CEO apologizes for shortage

APTOPIX Baby Formula Shortage
Michael Conroy
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

The first of several flights expected from Europe aimed at relieving a shortage landed in Indianapolis with enough formula for more than a half-million bottles.

An Air Force C-17 cargo jet carrying enough specialty infant formula for more than half a million baby bottles arrived Sunday at Indianapolis International Airport.

The plane carried 132 pallets - 78,000 pounds - of hypoallergenic Nestlé Health Science Alfamino Infant and Alfamino Junior formula from Ramstein Air Base in Germany.

It was the first of several flights expected from Europe aimed at relieving a shortage that has sent parents scrambling to feed their babies.

President Joe Biden authorized the use of Air Force planes for the effort, dubbed “Operation Fly Formula,” because no commercial flights were available.

The shipment arrived a day after the CEO of Abbott, the company whose voluntary recall of several widely sold baby formula brands helped trigger a nationwide formula shortage, apologized for the crisis on Sunday.

"We're sorry to every family we've let down since our voluntary recall exacerbated our nation's baby formula shortage," wrote CEO Robert Ford in an op-ed published Saturday in the Washington Post.

The nationwide shortage has roots in supply chain disruptions and a market characterized by limited competition, exclusive contracts and few large suppliers.

But it was kicked into overdrive in February when Abbott, the nation's largest manufacturer of baby formula, voluntarily closed a large plant in Michigan after four children fell sick with bacterial infections.

"We believe our voluntary recall was the right thing to do. We will not take risks when it comes to the health of children," Ford wrote.

In the months since the recall, parents have reported empty shelves and limits on purchases from places where formula is in stock.

Children in Tennessee, Georgia, Wisconsin and other states have reportedly been hospitalized as a result of the formula shortage. Some of the products affected by the shortage are hypoallergenic formulas designed for children with milk allergies or other difficulties digesting food normally.

Abbott will establish a $5 million fund to help those families with medical and living expenses until the supply crisis is relieved, Ford announced.

Abbott's plant in Michigan will reopen the first week of June. The company reached an agreement with the Food and Drug Administration last week to reopen the shuttered plant.

Production of Elecare and other hypoallergenic formulas will be prioritized, Ford said. "By the end of June, we will be supplying more formula to Americans than we were in January before the recall," he said.

NPR's Becky Sullivan contributed to this report.