Since the onset of this pandemic, no company has made as many tests, as affordably, as Abbott. 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.
In May, as vaccinations climbed and summer arrived, demand for testing plummeted, and public health guidelines told vaccinated people to refrain from testing unless they had symptoms. At that time, Abbott had significant amounts of finished test kits in inventory to supply expected demand. The lots of card components, shown in the photos in The New York Times article (143608R and 143467R), were at seven-month shelf life and were disposed of in accordance with our standard inventory management process.
And we chose to store individual components, many of which have been in short supply during the pandemic – such as reagent bottles, cardboard packaging, swabs, nitrocellulose strips, and even paper labeling – so that we could have them in the event that we needed to scale back up, which is exactly what's happening now.
About Overseas Donations
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 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.
Governments do not accept short-dated product, even when donated, because of the time it takes to get through their networks. Abbott respects the quality and dating requirements of countries in the same manner as we do in the U.S.
Abbott manufactures another high-quality rapid test, Panbio, which is also affordable and approved in most countries outside the U.S. We have been able to supply all international orders for that product.
About Abbott's Leadership During the Pandemic
Abbott has repeatedly stepped up during this pandemic. We self-funded our entire investment in both test development and manufacturing capacity scale up. At a time when COVID tests were selling at a premium of $100 or more, we reset the market by pricing it affordably, at a fraction, making it accessible at a mass scale. When unemployment numbers were rising by the week and jobs were needed, we hired thousands of full-time and contingent workers. And thousands of team members at Abbott worked around-the-clock shifts to invent, develop and manufacture hundreds of millions of rapid tests, compressing into weeks what would normally take many months or years.
When The New York Times contacted us, they told us their story was about how private industry stepped up to fill an important role during the pandemic to develop tests. They wanted to know how we navigated the changing public health guidance and public behaviors. But, the resulting story implied that disposing of short-dated test components was the wrong thing to do; when, in fact, we took the best actions based on quality standards and the rapidly changing environment.
We've always said that vaccines are the most effective tool we have to combat COVID-19, but they can't do it alone and testing is a critical companion. BinaxNOW is the leading rapid test because it's reliable, easy to use and detects COVID-19 and all of its variant strains. 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.