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Parents Scramble to Find Baby Formula Amid Ongoing Shortage; Biden Hosts Sweden, Finland Leaders Amid Push to Join NATO. Aired 10:30-11a ET

Aired May 19, 2022 - 10:30   ET




JIM SCIUTTO, CNN ANCHOR: President Biden is rolling out new ways to counter the nationwide shortage of baby formula, invoking the Defense Production Act, also opening up other ways for government agencies to get supplies. This comes as some parents are forced to take some unusual measures to deal with the shortfalls.

CNN's Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen joins me now. Elizabeth, I just wonder how far and wide are we seeing the effects of this right now, not just the shortage but health effects.

ELIZABETH COHEN, CNN SENIOR MEDICAL CORRESPONDENT: You know, we're not -- obviously there's been no studies on this, it's all happening so quickly, but we're hearing not from a parent or one or two parents, but parents across the country whose children have ended up in the hospital because they weren't able to get the right formula. So, these are children who we've been hearing about who drink sort of special formulas and they haven't been able to find it and so their children have become sick.

So, I want to introduce you to, for example, three-month-old Clover Wheatley (ph) in the pediatric intensive care unit in South Carolina. She drank just one formula and her parents tried other ones, she wouldn't take them, it wouldn't work, she's now on a feeding tube in the hospital. Three-year-old Alexis Tyler (ph) in Massachusetts, a similar situation, specific feeding issues for this three-year-old who has autism and she is now also getting a feeding tube at a hospital in Massachusetts. And I think we're going to, unfortunately, hear more and more about this, which is why the U.S. Government is trying so hard to fix this. But I will tell you, it's not going to happen quickly. Let's look at the measures that they're taking, Jim.

For example, President Biden has invoked the Defense Production Act, directing formulas -- I'm sorry, ingredients used in infant formula to go to infant formula manufacturers first before manufacturers of other products. The FDA is also trying to make it easier to import formula to the U.S., something that really hasn't been done in the past. Also, Operation Fly Formula, the Department of Defense is helping to expedite formula imports via airplanes. Also, FDA and Abbott have agreed on steps to reopen that shuttered Michigan plant. But, Jim, if you really look at sort of some of the wordsmithing and what we looked at, this is all -- or for the most part, this is sort of under in process. They are trying to make things easier. They are taking steps. This is not going to show results tomorrow or the next day or the next day. It will likely be weeks before we see results and some people are saying it will be many, many weeks or maybe even longer before we really put an end to this shortage. Jim?

SCIUTTO: Yes, lots of structural issues to address as well. Elizabeth Cohen, thanks so much.

So, joining me now to discuss is Dr. Matthew Denenberg. He's an emergency medicine physician and the chief of pediatrics at Beaumont Hospital in Southeast Michigan. Doctor, good to have you on this morning.


SCIUTTO: So, first, let's talk about the health effects of this. You heard Elizabeth Cohen there talking in particular about children that had special needs. They could only use one formula and some of them being hospitalized as a result. I'm curious, in your hospital and others, are you hearing this as a widespread problem right now?

DENENBERG: We know that it's a widespread spread across the country with the specialized formulas or formulas for children who have either special health needs or allergies or issues with normal or regular formulas.

Our hospital here in Southeast Michigan has been able to have enough of those formulas and formulas available to treat our patients and our children in our hospitals, but we know that as this crisis continues, that becomes more of a problem as our supplies start to decrease. But for now, we've been able to maintain those special formulas, but the supply is getting low.

SCIUTTO: Okay. Let's talk about tips for parents who aren't in that special category. What advice are you giving people who can't get it now and might have to wait weeks before they can?

DENENBERG: Fortunately, the American Academy of Pediatrics and others have started to come out with some really sound, strong advice on what to do. But we really are encouraging parents to check stores that they don't normally check. We're working with parents to make sure that they're checking in with their pediatrician before they do anything to change formula or switch to a different formula, especially if they're taking those specialized formulas.

You really need to check in with your pediatrician or your family practitioner or your provider to make sure it's okay what you're switching to. That's the key, is to make sure you get the right advice. And we are reminding and warning families, please, please, please, do not take those recipes that you're reading and picking up on social media.


Those recipes can be very dangerous and we are not -- we do not advocate them at all.

SCIUTTO: Yes, listen to your doctor here.

We did a deep dive on this yesterday and it surprised us that there are only four companies that make baby formula in the U.S. One of them, Abbott, makes nearly half the supply. You also have restrictions on using imported formula really for labeling issues, not because it's any less safe or nutritious.

From a doctor's perspective, how dumb is that, right? I mean, that sort of sets you up for something like this if you have a recall like we did at this one Abbott plant.

DENENBERG: Yes. And I'll go out on a limb ere and say not only do I think there needs to be more for more producers, but redundancy, right? We call that redundancy to be safe. There probably needs to be better opportunity for those plants to be watched more closely so that this doesn't happen.

But the problem -- one of the problems, what I'm learning from this issue and recently reading is, it's a pretty low margin business for corporations too. So, to produce baby formula is critically important for our babies but it doesn't make a lot of profit. And so that's one of the reasons why it's concentrated in such a small number of producers.

SCIUTTO: Yes. I mean, that's something. Well, listen, Dr. Denenberg, thanks so much for the work you're doing.

DENENBERG: My pleasure. Thank you for having me and to be able to speak about this important issue.

SCIUTTO: Coming up, any moment now, President Biden will be speaking at the White House Rose Garden along with the leaders of Finland and Sweden. They've been meeting for over an hour now on their hopes of joining NATO. Stay with us for live coverage.



SCIUTTO: Happening right now, this a live scene at the White House where any moment now, President Biden as well as Vice President Harris will be joined by the Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, and the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, on the occasion of their proposed accession to the NATO security alliance here. The national security adviser, Jake Sullivan, told reporters earlier the point of this meeting is so that the three countries can coordinate on the path forward to NATO membership. That requires unanimous agreement among the NATO allies, this in response to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine, a real change for these countries.

John Harwood, how confident are the president and vice president that their membership will go forward?

JOHN HARWOOD, CNN WHITE HOUSE CORRESPONDENT: Well, they certainly went into the meeting confident, as did the heads of state of Finland and Sweden. You know, one of the signal successes of President Biden during the last several months has been his ability, with, of course, help from Vladimir Putin's aggression, to hold the western alliance together, both European countries that are not part of NATO as well as NATO itself, and that is demonstrated by the decision, after many years of standing outside, of Finland and Sweden wanting to join NATO.

As you indicated, you need unanimous approval. So, every country within NATO has leverage over that decision. Turkey has been resistant, but there are talks going on between the Finland and Sweden and Turkey directly with the United States facilitating those talks, and I expect we're going to get a progress report when they come out and address reporters in a couple minutes.

SCIUTTO: Yes. Finland's accession, you can argue, the most notable here, and you even have word of it, the Finlandization of countries. I mean, its neutrality is historic. It's tried to maintain neutrality between Russia and the west for many decades. That is now changing here.

We did see the Turkish president, Turkey a NATO member, reiterate at least its public opposition to Sweden and Finland joining, saying he could reject it. I wonder how serious a potential roadblock they see that is. This is about Sweden's support, Turkey argues, for what Turkey calls terrorist groups, Kurdish nationalist groups that have a base in Sweden. Do they believe they can get over that obstacle?

HARWOOD: They do. But it's a significant one. Look, Turkey is an outlier in some ways within the NATO alliance because of the nature of the Erdogan regime. And they have had -- maintained their long conflict with the Kurdish community they consider terrorists, and the other countries in the west do not view it quite that way. And so that requires some diplomacy. But I do think that there was at least the belief going in that they would be able to smooth that out diplomatically. I don't think -- I'm not sure you would have had a high-profile meeting on this stage right now if they didn't believe that.

SCIUTTO: Well, it's quite a public push. You might say, hey, the most crucial member you can argue of the alliance, the U.S., is very much behind this membership, so, you know, get in line, in effect, here.

HARWOOD: Exactly.

SCIUTTO: Are there other obstacles to this or do other members of the alliance line up behind Sweden and Finland on this?

HARWOOD: I don't think we've seen anything comparable to what Turkey has done. It's possible that there are quiet concerns that other countries are raising, and maybe using leverage for minor or lesser purposes, but I think this is the big one.

[10:45:01] SCIUTTO: Let's listen in. President Biden there accompanied, as we noted, by the Finnish president, Sauli Niinisto, and the Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson, the two punitive new members of the NATO alliance, a response, a remarkable one, to Russia's ongoing invasion of Ukraine.

As we said earlier, these are two countries that resisted that membership for many years. They had an association with NATO, but membership in the alliance is different. That means taking part in its mutual defense agreement, if one country is attacked, the others will come to its defense. That's the nature of this alliance.

And now Finland in particular right on Russia's border. This will -- if Finland is successfully part of the alliance, this will more than double the border between the alliance and Russia. Finland itself has more than an 800-mile border with Russia.

Again, President Biden coming to the stage now as these two countries have both publicly expressed their support and, by the way, their parliaments behind it as well by large votes and support, something that wasn't there before Russia crossed that border on February 24th. Let's listen in to the president.

JOE BIDEN, U.S. PRESIDENT: Please, please be seated. Thank you.

It's not only a beautiful day, this is, in my view and the view of my team, a momentous day. It's a very, very good day. Today, I am proud to welcome and offer the strong support of the United States for the applications of two great democracies and two close, highly capable partners, to join the strongest, most powerful defensive alliance in the history of the world. Two proud independent countries exercising their sovereign rights all states possess to decide their own security.

President Niinisto, you are -- and Prime Minister Andersson, you're -- it's a great honor to have both of you here at the White House, as Finland and Sweden begin the process of joining NATO.

It was out of the wreckage of World War II that NATO was formed. And in seven decades that followed, NATO has proved itself an indispensable alliance committed to Europe, whole, free and at peace.

But in recent years, doubts began to arise. Was NATO still relevant? Was it still effective? Is it still needed in the 21st century world? Today, there is no question, NATO is relevant, it is effective and it is more needed now than ever. The indispensable alliance of decades past is still the indispensable alliance for the world we face today, and, I would argue, tomorrow as well.

And the decision of Sweden and Finland, one they have made, is testament to that commitment. This is about the future. It's about a revived NATO that has the tools and resources, the clarity and conviction, to defend our shared values and lead the world.

Sweden and Finland are already among our closest partners on a range of issues, from strengthening peace and stability to advancing human rights, to taking on the climate crisis and addressing food insecurity, from strengthening the global health to promoting development.

Finnish and Swedish troops, they have already served shoulder to shoulder with U.S. and NATO forces in Kosovo, in Afghanistan and in Iraq. And both Finland and Sweden are already working in coordination with the United States and our other allies and partners to support the brave people of Ukraine, as they defend their freedom against Russia's invasion.

Sweden and Finland have strong democratic institutions, strong militaries, and strong and transparent economies, and a strong moral sense of what is right. They meet every NATO requirement and then some. And having two new NATO members in the high north will enhance the security of our alliance and deepen our security cooperation across the board.

Today, the president and the prime minister and I had a very good discussion about NATO accession, about the war in Ukraine and strengthening transatlantic security.


But our conversations began well before today. President Niinisto and I spoke last December and again in January and the weeks leading up to Russia's unjust and unprovoked assault on Ukraine. In March, the president came to the White House, came to the White House, to see me, to discuss this brutal conflict, and the rupture it's causing in Europe.

While we were in the Oval Office together, we picked up the phone and we called the prime minister and the three of us all spoke, and we spoke again last week when I invited them to come to the White House today.

We have consulted closely at every stage as Sweden and Finland made their determinations. And today I am proud to assure them that they have the full, total, complete backing of the United States of America. Today, my administration is submitting to the United States Congress reports on NATO accession for both countries so the Senate can efficiently and quickly move on advising and consenting to the treaty.

I greatly appreciate Senator Schumer and McConnell's support, as well and Senator Menendez and Risch to move this through the Senate as quickly as possible, once perspective of all allies are addressed and NATO adopts the accession protocol.

The bottom line is simple, quite straightforward. Finland and Sweden make NATO stronger, not just because of their capacity but because of their strong, strong democracies. A strong, united NATO is the foundation of America's security.

By joining NATO, allies make a sacred commitment to one another that an attack on one is an attack against all. It's Article 5 of the Washington Treaty and the core building block of our alliance. And the only time in history Article 5 has been invoked was after 9/11 when the United States was attacked and all our allies rallied to our side.

The United States will never forget that, and we will never fail in our pledge to defend every single inch of NATO territory. I welcome Sweden and Finland, choosing that responsibility as well. It's going to benefit all of our people. And today, the president and prime minister and I committed that we're going to work together to remain vigilant against the threats to our shared security and deter and confront any aggression while Finland and Sweden are in this accession process. There's nothing going to be missed, as my mother would say, between the cup and the lip, once it is moving forward. I really mean it. I really mean it.

So, let me be clear, new members joining NATO is not a threat to any nation. It never has been. NATO's purpose is to defend against aggression. That's its purpose, to defend. And let me make -- let no one make a mistake the meaning of this historic day, in the face of aggression, NATO has not grown weaker or more divided. It has grown stronger, more united. Finland and Sweden's decision to request membership in NATO, it will be enhanced for all time.

Standing together today, we reject the bloody creed that might makes right and we declare more powerful creed, all for one and one for all, because what NATO makes strong isn't just our enormous military capacity but our commitment to each other, to its values. NATO is an alliance of choice, not coercion. This is a victory for democracy in action.

Finland and Sweden are seeking to join NATO because their citizens demanded it, and their elected leaders heard them. That's how it works, when leaders derive their power from the consent of the government -- from the consent of the governed. And that's why NATO's open door has always been so important. It allows nations to choose for themselves to be asked to join nations that value freedom, democracy and human dignity above all else.


Countries must demonstrate that they meet NATO's high standards for military inoperability, economic transparency and democratic accountability. That's what Sweden and Finland have done. And so today, it's an affirmation that those countries in Europe that share our values that we're willing and able to do what it takes to be part of the alliance. NATO's door remains open.

In just a few minutes, I'll be leaving to spend time with two of our indo-Pacific allies. In a half hour or so, I will be flying to the Republic of Korea and Japan. I thank the president and the prime minister for traveling here on this meet -- for this meeting, before I take off because it is so important.

America's alliances in Europe and in Asia keep us, and I would argue, the world, strong and secure. They're how we confront the challenge of our time, and deliver, deliver for our people today and harness, harness opportunities for better tomorrow. I look forward to soon calling Sweden and Finland our friends, partners and NATO allies. I want to thank you both for being here, and I'm going to invite each of you to say a few words. And we'll start, Mr. President, the podium is yours.

SAULI NIINISTO, FINNISH PRESIDENT: Mr. President, it is with great pleasure and honor to be standing here today with you, together with the Swedish prime minister, Magdalena Andersson. We are here for a very good reason. Together, we are taking a historic step by seeking the North Atlantic Treaty Organization.

Finland has made its decision after rapid but a very thorough process. The process has once again revealed the strength of Finnish democracy, starting from the strong public support. The decision was made with an overwhelming parliamentary majority, and it also enjoys huge, strong, popular support.

I want to thank you, Mr. President, for your steadfast support throughout this process. In early March, I visited White House and you encouraged us to go further. That was of vital importance to our process. Your statement yesterday and our trilateral meeting today are a testimony of enduring commitment, the United States has made to European and to transatlantic security.

I want to assure that Finland will become a strong NATO ally. We take our security very seriously. The Finnish Armed Forces are one of the strongest in Europe. We have also consistently invested in developing our capabilities.

The Finn's willingness to defend their country is one of the highest in the whole world. We are ready to contribute to the security of the whole alliance, making the commitment to mutual security guarantees, that being NATO ally entails.

Now, that we have taken this first decisive step, it is time for NATO allies to weigh in. We hope for strong support from all allies and for a swift ratification of our membership, once it's agreed. The United States can set a crucially important example to others.

The Turkish leadership has recently expressed concerns about our membership application. I want to address these concerns today. Finland has always had proud and good relations to Turkey. As NATO allies, we will commit to Turkey's security just as Turkey will commit to our security.


We take terrorism seriously. We condemn terrorism in all its forms, and we are actively engaged in combating it.