“I don’t think anyone anticipated the impact of the shutdown of one facility, the Abbott facility,” Biden said, referring to the plant in Sturgis, Michigan, that was taken offline in February because of concerns products made there contained deadly bacteria.
Biden was speaking to reporters in Washington after meeting virtually with formula manufacturers, though no Abbott representatives were part of the meeting.
After a reporter noted that the CEOs he met with said they understood the shutdown would impact supply, Biden replied: “They did, but I didn’t.”
Tarun Malkani, CEO of Gerber, recounted how the company went into crisis mode shortly after learning about the Abbott plant being shut down and started operating its factories 24 hours, seven days a week. The company has increased its supply 60 percent since Abbott voluntarily recalled its formula products after the shutdown.
Robert Cleveland, a senior vice president for Reckitt, also said the company has ramped up production following the Feb. 17 recall.
Despite the recall and the shutdown both happening in February, Biden disclosed that he did not become aware of the problem with supply until early April.
Speaking during a press conference shortly after Biden finished the meeting, White House press secretary Karine Jean-Pierre said “I know that he just said that a few moments ago, so I would have to I would have to talk to him about about the April date.”
It’s “not uncommon” for high-level officials to be working on something without the president being briefed, Jean-Pierre said.
The Biden administration has said they started trying to increase formula supply in February.
The effort has included relaxing restrictions for out-of-country products that have met safety standards in other countries, including millions of bottles of formula from Kendamil, a British manufacturer.
But the shortages are still bad. The out-of-stock rate was 23 percent in the United States in the week ending May 22, according to IRI. That was up from 11 percent in the first week of January.
Biden said it would take multiple additional months for the situation to return to normal.
Abbott reached an agreement with U.S. regulators in mid-May that created a pathway to reopen the Sturgis plant, but it said it would take at least two weeks to resume production and at least six weeks after that to get its products back on store shelves.
“We know millions of parents and caregivers depend on us and we’re deeply sorry that our voluntary recall worsened the nationwide formula shortage,” Robert Ford, Abbott’s CEO, said at the time. “We will work hard to re-earn the trust that moms, dads and caregivers have placed in our formulas for more than 50 years.”