(NewsNation) — President Joe Biden on Wednesday invoked the Defense Production Act to speed production of infant formula and authorize flights to import supply from overseas, as he faces mounting political pressure over a domestic shortage caused by the safety-related closure of the country’s largest formula manufacturing plant.
The Defense Production Act order requires suppliers of formula manufacturers to fulfill orders from those companies before other customers, in an effort to eliminate production bottlenecks. Biden is also authorizing the Defense Department to use commercial aircraft to fly overseas formula supplies that meet federal standards to the U.S., in what the White House is calling “Operation Fly Formula.”
Supplies of baby formula across the country have been severely curtailed in recent weeks after a February recall by Abbott Nutrition exacerbated ongoing supply chain disruptions among formulamakers, leaving fewer options on store shelves and increasingly anxious parents struggling to find nutrition for their children.
Dr. Jessica Shepherd, the chief medical officer at Verywell Health, said on NewsNation’s “Rush Hour” the Defense Production Act will not help immediately, but said it does show action and answers from the government on the issue.
“When we think of this shortage, there are so many people that are impacted and we really need to have an answer to how they are going to get the resources that they need in order to feed their children, their infants,” Shepherd said. “In some cases, even children who cannot absorb certain nutrients and have to rely on formula.”
The announcement comes two days after the Food and Drug Administration said it was streamlining its review process to make it easier for foreign manufacturers to begin shipping more formula into the U.S. Regulators also said Monday that they’d reached a deal to allow Abbott Nutrition to restart its Sturgis, Michigan, plant, the nation’s largest formula plant, which has been closed since February due to contamination issues. The company must overhaul its safety protocols and procedures before resuming production.
After getting the FDA’s OK, Abbott said it will take eight to ten weeks before new products begin arriving in stores. The company didn’t set a timeline to restart manufacturing.
Shepherd said it will still be important for parents not to rely on homemade formula in the meantime as it can lead to negative health effects for children.
“The American Academy of Pediatrics really placed a stance on not relying on recipes that may be seen online because infants really do have a specific balance of nutrients that they need and when that is disrupted, we really have to take into account that this can lead to severe diseases and even death,” Shepherd said.
She said parents struggling to find alternative formula for their children need to speak with their health care provider to ensure the child’s nutritional needs are being met safely.
Shepherd said parents worried about their child’s health should keep an eye out for things like fever or lethargic behavior from a child, and if the parent is unsure at all to call their doctor.
“Paying attention to your child and knowing their previous activity and what they’re capable of and if there’s any changes in that, to either take them in to the pediatric office or call the doctor,” Shepherd said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.