HONOLULU, Hawaii (HawaiiNewsNow) - Some $30 million worth of COVID-19 test kits purchased by the state have expired as they sat in storage, despite at least one county request to use them.
The state Health Department said it is working to get federal approval for an extension to use the 672,000 kits, but that could be a lengthy process.
The state bought the BD Veritor brand antigen test last summer as cases were spiking. Those kits expired last Friday.
Experts said because coronavirus is new, determining the shelf life of COVID-19 products is not exact.
Edward Desmond, administrator at the Department of Health State Laboratories Division, said the manufacturer does a stability study to determine how long a test is good.
“For example, they’ll take some of the product that’s been sitting on a shelf for three months and they’ll compare it to freshly made product,” he said.
“If they perform the same, then the manufacturer can say, they last three months.”
Desmond said now that the items are closer to a year old, the manufacturer can compare test kits that have been stored longer to come up with a more accurate expiration date.
The state’s test kits were purchased for nursing homes and prisons during a statewide surge. When case numbers dropped, the state put the testing kits in storage in case of another spike.
As the expiration date got closer, Hawaii County officials asked for the kits to test arriving travelers. The state refused to offer up the tests for free, instead sending the county 50,000 but charging them.
In a statement, state Health Department spokesman Brooks Baehr, said the supply was for community use “which does not include airport COVID-19 testing that may be instituted on a county-by-county basis under the provision of the governor’s Emergency Proclamation.”
That means the tests sent to the county last month will cost about $45 each.
Dr. Scott Miscovich, of Premier Medical Group, is doing the airport testing and said the need isn’t going away. “The vaccine is not 100%,” Miscovich said.
The Big Island has done the most traveler post-arrival tests ― about 180,000 in all ― because it’s mandatory for every arrival (even passengers with a negative pre-travel result).
County leaders are planning to scale back the program, in part because of cost. That’s why they asked for the state’s stockpiled tests.
Desmond said they have asked the manufacturer to do additional testing to see if the stored kits can be put back in rotation.
“We don’t want to waste it, of course, we want to be able to continue to use it,” Desmond said.
He added if the manufacturer does approves the extension, the FDA will still has to review the work before allowing the state to use the expired tests.