Abbott (NYSE:ABT) has responded to a New York Times article reporting the disposal of COVID-19 test inventory at a Maine factory.
The New York Times article on Aug. 20 stated that, as COVID-19 cases dwindled in the U.S. in June and July, workers at Abbott’s Westbrook, Maine, facility that produced its BinaxNow rapid COVID-19 tests were instructed to take apart millions of products and place them in garbage bags.
In July, Abbott laid off about 300 employees at the Westbrook facility and another 100 at its Scarborough, Maine factory. The New York Times article said contracts with suppliers were canceled, too. At the same time, the company closed an Illinois plant that added 2,000 workers to aid in scaling up testing capacity in September 2020.
As COVID-19 cases continue to surge in the U.S., the article points to diminished testing capacity and trends moving in the opposite direction. However, Abbott has delivered a staunch dispute to the claims made in the story.
“Since the onset of this pandemic, no company has made as many tests, as affordably, as Abbott,” the company said in an Aug. 20 statement. “We have not destroyed any finished BinaxNOW product, nor have we destroyed any usable test components needed by the market that could have been donated. In fact, because Abbott maintained usable test components, we’re now able to scale up.”
Abbott pointed to reduced demand for testing with vaccination numbers rising as cases plummeted, with public health guidelines recommending that vaccinated individuals refrain from testing unless symptoms were present. At that time, the company said it had significant amounts of finished test kits available to supply the expected demand.
Moreover, the company pointed to the lots of card components for the BinaxNOW rapid tests displayed in the New York Times article (143608R and 143467R) as having reached seven-month shelf life, resulting in disposal under Abbott’s standard inventory management process.
Additionally, Abbott chose to store individual components, including reagent bottles, cardboard packaging, swabs, nitrocellulose strips and paper labeling, so that the company could have them if it needed to scale back up — which is the case now.
The company explained that it could not have donated the components overseas to areas that may have needed testing as well.
“Abbott has decades of experience working in partnership with governments and in countries – including in other pandemics – where the need is most critical to improve public health. But these BinaxNOW test components could not have simply been donated overseas,” the statement reads. “The BinaxNOW test is not approved outside the U.S. Funders, and most governments have very specific shelf-life requirements. Currently, the minimum acceptable dating for our COVID lateral flow tests is nine months or about 80% of shelf life in most countries outside of the U.S. It would have taken months to complete manufacturing, create individualized regulatory filings in countries, obtain regulatory approvals, ship product overseas in exact specified storage conditions, and then get it to the people who need it—too late for the product to be widely used.
Additionally, Abbott’s Panbio rapid COVID-19 test, which holds approval in most countries outside the U.S., has been available, and the company said it’s been able to supply all international orders for it.
The company concluded its statement with a staunch defense of its role in battling the COVID-19 pandemic: “It’s important that ongoing guidance and practice recognize the critical role that testing will have in the months ahead. This isn’t a situation of either/or – it has to be both: vaccines and testing. Abbott has always worked in the best interests of public health through this pandemic and will continue to do so.”