Millions of COVID-19 tests purchased by US going unused

At least 32 million of the 142 million Abbott BinaxNOW tests the U.S. government distributed to states last year weren't used as of early February, according to a review by The Wall Street Journal

The first batch of tests were distributed in September and they expire after six months, the Journal reported. 

The unused tests cost the federal government $160 million, according to the Journal's review of test inventory information provided by 32 states. HHS signed a contract with Abbott to buy 150 million of the tests for $760 million in August, which were then sent to states, long-term care facilities and historically black colleges and universities. 

The government's efforts to distribute rapid tests to states "didn't really go anywhere," Michael Mina, MD, PhD, a Harvard University epidemiologist who advised Trump administration health officials, told the Journal.

Some state health officials told the Journal they were reluctant to use the tests for regular screening because they didn't know if they'd have a consistent supply of the tests. Others said they delayed using the tests because they had to build the technology needed to easily report the results to public health authorities. 

Some schools told the Journal they haven't used the tests because of the amount of training staff needed, regulatory waivers they'd need to use the tests and the time it takes to manually report the results. 

But some states — including Maine, Vermont and Arizona — have reported that they've distributed the majority of the tests and said they were valuable additions to their COVID-19 testing strategy, the Journal reported. 

Michael Iademarco, MD, director of the Center For Surveillance, Epidemiology and Laboratory Services at HHS, told the Journal its findings were consistent with a survey conducted by the agency in December that found about 20 states had not used 50 percent or more of the tests they were given. He said HHS is concerned about the lack of use of rapid tests and is investing in different kinds of tests, according to the Journal

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