Florida DOH monitoring ‘life-threatening’ formula shortage affecting families nationwide

The local departments of health around Northeast Florida sent notices Friday saying they are monitoring the infant formula shortage, which they called a “life-threatening issue.”

The local departments of health around Northeast Florida sent notices Friday saying they are monitoring the infant formula shortage, which they called a “life-threatening issue.”

FDA Commissioner Dr. Robert Califf faced a bipartisan grilling from House lawmakers Thursday over the baby formula issue that has angered American parents.

He said the shuttered baby formula factory that triggered the national shortage could be up and running as soon as next week.

In Florida, State Surgeon General Joseph Ladapo sent a letter May 12 to Califf “to ensure Floridians are kept up to date on this issue and have the correct information on how to protect your family,” according to a news release from the state health department.

RESOURCE: With the baby formula shortage, what should I do if I can’t find any?

The problems are largely tied to Abbott Nutrition’s Michigan formula plant, the largest in the U.S., which has been closed since February due to contamination problems. The FDA announced a preliminary agreement with Abbott earlier this week to restart production, pending safety upgrades and certifications.

“We had to wrestle this to ground with Abbott,” Califf told members of a House subcommittee “I think we are on track to get it open within the next week to two weeks.”

After production resumes, Abbott has said, it could take about two months before new formula begins arriving in stores. Califf said it will be “a few weeks” before supplies returns to normal levels, especially in rural areas.

SNAPJAX: Help those who need it find it. When you are out and about and spot baby formula on store shelves, snap a picture with your phone, post it to SnapJAX and caption it with a location. Use the category “breaking news,” and for those of you looking for formula, go to News4JAX.com/SnapJAX and take a look at what’s been posted.

The release from the Florida DOH said for families in need of certain metabolic formulas, Abbott continues to release these products on an as-needed basis with a referral from a health care professional. These products were not included in the recall and have been tested and comply with all product release requirements before distribution. Impacted families should contact their health care provider or local WIC office to ensure they are getting the necessary formula.

When lawmakers asked Califf why it took the FDA months to investigate a whistleblower complaint about safety violations at Abbott’s plant, Califf said he couldn’t share details due to the agency’s ongoing investigation. Several lawmakers rejected that response.

“It’s not acceptable to say you just can’t comment on it,” said Rep. Mark Pocan, D-Wisconsin. “This is a problem I’ve seen over and over with the FDA: You guys aren’t good at communicating.”

Califf is the first administration official to testify before Congress on the shortage, which has left some parents hunting for formula and become a political talking point for Republicans. On Wednesday evening Biden announced sweeping new steps to improve U.S. supplies, including invoking the Defense Production Act and flying in imported formula from overseas.

One point on which lawmakers and Califf agreed is that concentrated nature of the U.S. formula market makes it highly vulnerable to disruption. Just four companies produce an estimated 90% of U.S. formula, including Abbott, Gerber, Perrigo and Reckitt. Those companies also dominate federal contracts that provide about half of all U.S. formula through a program called WIC, for low-income mothers, children and babies.

Abbott shut its Michigan plant in February after FDA inspectors began investigating four bacterial infections in infants who had consumed formula from the plant. The first of those cases was reported to the FDA in September, but agency staff didn’t begin inspecting the facility until late January.

Califf said earlier this week the agency’s investigation is ongoing and it hasn’t yet reached a conclusion on whether bacteria from the plant caused the infant infections. Abbott has said there is no direct evidence linking its products to the illnesses.

The Florida DOH release offered the following advice to protect your family:

  • Choose an infant formula that is safe. For more information on choosing a safe infant formula, visit the CDC and FDA pages on the topic.
  • Do not make homemade infant formula. Visit the FDA’s page for more information.
  • Do not buy formula online that comes from outside the United States. This formula could be counterfeit, including a fake labels with a wrong use-by-date.
  • Properly prepare and store infant formula. For information on proper preparation and storage, visit the CDC’s page.
  • Properly clean, sanitize, and store infant feeding items. Visit the CDC’s page for more information.
  • Always wash your hands. For information on how and when to wash your hands, visit the CDC’s page.

About the Authors:

A Jacksonville native and proud University of North Florida alum, Francine Frazier has been with News4Jax since 2014 after spending nine years at The Florida Times-Union.