Abbott Laboratories is disputing a report that it told workers in Maine to destroy “millions” of rapid antigen tests for COVID-19 in the weeks before the company announced layoffs.

Abbott’s rapid coronavirus test. Courtesy photo of Abbott Laboratories

The New York Times reported Friday afternoon that as sales plunged this spring, along with cases of the virus, the Chicago-based company ramped down production of the 15-minute BinaxNOW test, closing a plant in Illinois that was making the test, canceling contracts, and laying off 400 full-time employees in Westbrook and Scarborough. Now, with the delta variant surging across the country, Abbott is scrambling to rehire workers and restore its production capacity.

When Maine employees were instructed this summer to dismantle stockpiled tests and “stuff them into garbage bags,” some were upset that the tests weren’t being donated other countries that could use them, the Times reported. Many of the company’s manufacturing workers are immigrants from African countries, where COVID-19 tests and vaccines are not as available.

Abbott Laboratories issued a lengthy statement rebutting the Times article late Friday night, saying that in May, as vaccinations climbed and demand for the tests plummeted, the company had “significant amounts” of finished test kits in inventory, and none of them was destroyed. The testing cards that were shredded and thrown away – the Times estimated the number around 8.6 million – were nearing the end of their shelf life and “disposed of in accordance with our standard inventory management process.”

The company said it had saved and stored other components of the testing kits, such as reagent bottles, cardboard packaging, and swabs “so that we could have them in the event that we needed to scale back up, which is exactly what’s happening now.”

The Times article said that photographs of some of the estimated 8.6 million Abbott test cards that employees said were shredded show expiration dates that were more than seven months away.

Abbott announced in August 2020 that the FDA had issued an Emergency Use Authorization for the do-it-yourself test, which is about the size of a credit card and doesn’t require a prescription. The company said it planned to hire another 1,200 employees in Westbrook and, by October, would be making 50 million tests per month. The White House struck a deal with Abbott to acquire 150 million tests for $760 million that would be used in nursing homes, schools and other high-risk locations.

The Times interviewed both Abbott employees and public health officials about the destruction of the testing cards, who lamented the waste. Amal Barakat, a virologist at the WHO’s Eastern Mediterranean regional office, told the newspaper: “My heart, it hurts.”

Abbott said that the BinaxNOW test is not approved outside of this country, and that other countries do not accept short-dated products because of the time it takes to process them.

“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,” Abbott said.

Related Headlines


Only subscribers are eligible to post comments. Please subscribe or to participate in the conversation. Here’s why.

Use the form below to reset your password. When you've submitted your account email, we will send an email with a reset code.