Millions spent on COVID-19 antibody tests last year, but most now expired

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Last spring, the state spent $3.68 million of federal CARES Act money on 178,000 COVID-19 antibody tests. But today, many have gone unused.

According to the North Dakota Department of Health, 130,000 expired at the end of May, 33,000 expire next April — meaning just 15,000 have been used.

In an email, the department’s Chief Communications Officer, Marie Moe, said, “We wish that serology tests had the utility initially advertised when they became available in April of 2020; however, as research and science evolved, the serology tests were shown to have limited scope for use.”

The expired tests haven’t been thrown away — Moe says the department is exploring options on what to do with them, citing research as possibility.

While many of the state’s tests have gone unused, that hasn’t been the case for those at the Mayo Pharmacy in Bismarck, which started offering testing at peak of the pandemic last December.

“We don’t buy thousands at a time, so no we haven’t wasted any,” Pharmacy Owner Kevin Martian said.

Martian administers about one to two COVID-19 antibody tests a day, but six months ago, he was testing up to 80 people a day.

“The demand for antibody testing did drop off quite a bit,” Martian said.

That sharp decline comes as the state’s COVID cases plummeted over the past few weeks. He says he can understand how many of the tests went unused, as they seemed like a good tool at the start of the pandemic.

“Generally I think the states’ response has been really good, especially in comparison to other areas. In hindsight it’s always 2020, hindsight no, but in the moment maybe it seemed like there was going to be a strong utility for it,” Martian said.

The health department said the opportunity for using their antibody tests was limited. That’s in part because the FDA authorized two of the tests for emergency use only in medium or high complexity labs.

Moe added that “The health of North Dakotans is of utmost priority and has been at the forefront of all decision-making in the pandemic response. The state has been proactive in the innovation and adoption of technology in the care of citizens. This action is what led to our robust PCR and rapid antigen testing and our comprehensive immunization response.”

North Dakota received $1.25 billion from the Coronavirus Relief Fund as part of the federal CARES Act last year.

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