The Perfect Enemy | Analysis | The baby formula shortage has turned political - The Washington Post
May 27, 2022

Analysis | The baby formula shortage has turned political – The Washington Post

Analysis | The baby formula shortage has turned political  The Washington Post

Read Time:9 Minute

Good morning, and happy Friday. ICYMI: There’s now a photo of a supermassive black hole at the center of our galaxy, and it has a mass equal to more than 4 million suns. 

Today’s edition: The United States is nearing a grim milestone of 1 million coronavirus deaths. More Americans are identifying abortion as a top issue in their vote for Congress. But first … 

An infant formula recall is becoming politically tough for President Biden

A widespread shortage of baby formula has become political. 

The frustrations parents have faced for months exploded on the scene in Washington, with Republicans this week demanding answers from President Biden, the Food and Drug Administration and the Department of Agriculture. House Democrats are planning hearings to better understand the shortage’s causes, what more needs to be done and press FDA officials on what happened. 

Meanwhile, the White House insists it’s been working for months to address the shortfall that’s left parents scrambling to find formula to feed their infants. Because babies often need particular types of formula for allergies – or just don’t like the taste of a formula they’re not used to – supply shortages can leave parents in a real bind.

Here’s where the politics comes in: The issue is the latest example of the challenges Democrats are facing ahead of the midterms amid supply chain problems and rising prices. Republicans are hoping to win over moderate voters who feel financially squeezed, framing Democrats as a party that can’t govern, The Post’s Marianna Sotomayor and Ashley Parker note.

Meanwhile … President Biden met yesterday with infant formula manufacturers and retailers to discuss ongoing efforts to increase production and how the CEOs of Walmart and Target are working to stock shelves, particularly in rural areas. The White House also announced efforts to cut bureaucratic red tape to stock shelves more quickly; call on the Federal Trade Commission and state attorneys general to crack down on price gouging; and looming action to increase importation of certain infant formulas from overseas. 

  • “I can assure you that this is not new to the White House’s radar,” a senior administration official told reporters yesterday. “We have been working on this issue since the very beginning, in the days leading up to the recall and ever since then.”

More infant formula has been produced in the last four weeks than in the four weeks before a major recall of the product in February, officials said. But they didn’t have a timeline for when that would translate to parents seeing more formula in stores.

A 🧵 from Politico’s Helena Bottemiller Evich:

The details

Ongoing supply chain problems related to the coronavirus pandemic have led to shortages. And then in February, Abbott Nutrition — the nation’s largest infant formula producer — issued a recall for formula produced in a Michigan plant. Four children fell ill with bacterial infections and two died.

Abbott is a huge supplier of formula to a federal assistance program, called the Special Supplemental Nutrition Program for Women, Infants and Children (WIC). Last week, the formula out-of-stock percentage sat at 43 percent, according to retail insights group Datasembly. That’s a sharp uptick from the first half of 2021, when out-of-stock fluctuations hovered between 2 percent to 8 percent. 

The company says it has concluded that the infant formula made at its Michigan facility is unlikely to be the source of the infant illnesses. The formula maker says it could restart production at the Michigan site within two weeks with permission from the FDA. It would then take another six to eight weeks before more product hits the shelves. 

The view from the FDA: The agency recognizes consumers’ frustrations and is “doing everything in its power” to ensure there is product available, a spokesperson said in a statement to The Health 202. The plant “remains closed as the company works to correct findings related to the processes, procedures, and conditions that the FDA observed during its inspection of the facility.” The agency is expediting the certificates needed to allow for flexibility to import products and reviews of manufacturing changes. 

What’s next?

Expect the issue to continue to come up on Capitol Hill. 

Next Thursday, a House Appropriations subcommittee will hold a hearing in part to question FDA Commissioner Robert Califf on infant formula — and the panel’s chair, Rep. Rosa DeLauro (D-Conn.) has previously expressed concern that the agency may have reacted too slowly. In late May, a House Energy and Commerce subcommittee will hold an oversight hearing on the shortages.

  • “In order for the upcoming hearing to be productive, we believe the Committee needs to hear directly from FDA and Abbott,” an Energy and Commerce Democratic spokesperson said.

House Energy and Commerce Chair Frank Pallone Jr. (D-N.J.):

Sen. Mitt Romney (R-Utah):

Reproductive wars

Abortion has become a higher priority for voters — and vulnerable Democrats have noticed

A growing number of Americans are identifying abortion as the top issue in their vote for Congress, rivaling only the economy, our Post Politics Now colleagues report. Democratic leaders are hoping the issue could shift the enthusiasm gap that currently favors Republicans and ultimately hold down expected GOP gains this fall.

By the numbers: A new poll from Monmouth University found that 25 percent of U.S. adults chose abortion as their top issue when presented with a list of six choices, up from just 9 percent of respondents in a similar survey in 2018. 

  • Nearly half of Democrats say a candidate’s alignment with their views on abortion is “extremely important to their vote.” That’s up from 31 percent in 2018.
  • But among Republicans, there has been a decline in seeing abortion policy as a top factor in their vote choice, down to 29 percent from 36 percent in 2018.

On the trail: Some vulnerable Democratic lawmakers are putting the issue front and center in their bid for reelection in an attempt to capitalize off of public outrage.

Notable: A new campaign ad supporting the House’s last antiabortion Democrat, Rep. Henry Cuellar (Texas), warns that women’s rights are “under attack by extremists” and that he has “made it clear that he opposes a ban on abortion,” Post Politics Now reports. 

But Cuellar’s track record doesn’t show he defends abortion rights. In September, he was the only House Democrat to vote against a bill that would have codified abortion rights into federal law. 

Cuellar is currently in a tight reelection campaign against primary challenger Jessica Cisneros, a former attorney and abortion rights advocate who has received the backing of progressives like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.) and Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.). They will meet in a runoff election on May 24. 

Coronavirus

U.S. approaching grim milestone of 1M covid-19 deaths

In anticipation of the country nearing a once unthinkable “tragic milestone,” Biden ordered U.S. flags to be flown half-staff to honor the nearly 1 million American lives lost due to the coronavirus. 

According to The Post’s tracker, the nation’s pandemic death toll of 1 million is expected to be reached this week, our colleagues John Wagner and Mariana Alfaro report. 

In a statement, Biden pressed Congress to approve billions of dollars in stalled pandemic aid to replenish the nation’s dwindling supply of tests, vaccines and therapeutics. This comes amid warnings by senior health officials that a surge of infections this fall could infect up to 100 million people.

Meanwhile, top officials gathered for the Biden administration’s second global covid-19 summit

Biden appealed to world leaders to re-energize the international commitment to combat the coronavirus at the second global covid-19 summit yesterday. The summit garnered new financial commitments of over $3 billion from nations and partners worldwide to address the global response. This includes dollars for the immediate coronavirus response and toward a new pandemic preparedness and global health security fund at the World Bank.

  • The United States committed an additional $200 million for the fund, and announced it would license 11 covid-19 technologies to the World Health Organization to ramp up access to vaccines and therapeutics across the world.

Olaf Scholz, chancellor of Germany:

Some schools return to masking amid rising cases

As coronavirus cases rise during the final weeks of the school year, a smattering of districts in the Northeast are reinstating mask requirements, the Associated Press reports. 

The return of masks in schools isn’t as widespread as earlier in the pandemic, but districts in Maine, New Jersey and Pennsylvania have brought them back, with a few districts in Massachusetts also recommending masks. Most of the counties in the country considered to have “high” coronavirus transmission rates by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are in the Northeast.

Daily reported cases in the United States are up 26 percent over the past week, according to The Post’s tracker. But outside of school walls, officials have shown little appetite to bring back mask mandates.

In other health news

  • Biden’s coronavirus czar Ashish Jha said the White House is preparing for a scenario where Congress fails to approve more pandemic aid, prompting the administration to review old contracts to see if there is any money it can “claw back,” Reuters reports.
  • A quarter of Medicare patients who were hospitalized in 2018 experienced patient harm — and 43 percent of harm events were preventable, according to a new study by the Department of Health and Human Services’ Office of Inspector General.
  • In Louisiana: State Republicans voted last night to gut a controversial law that would have classified abortion as as homicide and let prosecutors criminally charge women who undergo the procedure, The Post’s Caroline Kitchener reports.

Quote of the week

Health reads

Few Eligible Families Have Applied for Government Help to Pay for Covid Funerals

Dr. Oz peddles medical misinformation — but could his political rise have a silver lining for public health? (By Lev Facher | STAT)

Census Undercount Threatens Federal Food and Health Programs on Reservations (By Carly Graf l Kaiser Health News)

Sugar rush

Thanks for reading! See y’all Monday.