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Expiration dates spark confusion over Covid antigen tests

April 1, 2022

Mary Henthorn
EXPIRED EXPIRATION DATES: Students were confused to find that their College-issued take-home antigen tests were past their expiration date. However, the FDA has since updated the expiration dates, meaning the results were likely accurate.

In a March 3 email, Covid-19 Resource Coordinator Mike Ranen instructed students to pick up an antigen test and take it within twelve hours of traveling back to campus after spring break. However, many students found that the expiration date printed on their test box had already passed.

When Mer Feero ’23 attempted to take a monitored Covid-19 antigen test in order to travel back to the United States after spending spring break abroad with her friends, she was surprised when the online proctor informed her that her test was invalid because of its expiration date.

“I took my box, and I held it up to the camera, and [the proctor] said ‘this is expired,’” Feero said. “The sticker on the box said it expired in November of last year.”

The proctor worked for eMed, a company that partners with Abbott Laboratories to provide supervision for antigen tests. Feero’s particular test was the BinaxNOW Covid-19 rapid antigen test, produced by Abbott Laboratories and distributed to students at Bowdoin’s testing center the week before spring break.

Ranen explained that although the date printed on the box may have passed, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and Abbott Laboratories had changed the expiration dates after conducting additional research.

“They weren’t expired,” Ranen said. “[Abbott Laboratories has] continually done more studies on the effectiveness of the test, and they’ve actually changed the expiration date from the date printed on the box. Depending on the batch the tests were made in, we have a spreadsheet of the actual expiration date, so every test that was given [to students] was a good test.”

Because Covid-19 tests were all developed in the past two years, the FDA has continued to change its guidance on their expiration dates. Originally, the tests had a six month shelf-life; in spring of 2021, that was extended to 12 months, and in January, the FDA authorized an expiry extension that deemed the tests usable for an additional three months from the expiration date printed on the box.

Even though the tests were most likely accurate, Feero was concerned about getting back into the country when she discovered that her three friends, who had also picked up their antigen tests at Bowdoin, had tests with old printed expiration dates.

“We all had a few minutes of panic,” Feero said.

The frisbee team also acquired about 60 BinaxNOW antigen tests from Student Activities for its spring break trip to South Carolina. Social Captain Thomas Hornbeck ’22 said that the team quickly realized the tests had old expiration dates, but that no one expressed much concern.

“We knew when we got the tests that they were expired, but I didn’t see it as too much of an issue because I knew the U.S. had changed around some expiration dates,” Hornbeck said. “We all understood that.”

The team did not have any issues with the tests, save for one inconclusive result Hornbeck believes could have happened with any batch of tests. The player with the inconclusive result was isolated until they received a confirmatory negative PCR test.

Hornbeck stressed that, regardless of any confusion, he was grateful for the tests.

“I appreciate Student Activities, because they reached out to us with the tests,” Hornbeck said. “We were traveling a bunch, so I wanted everyone to feel comfortable throughout the week and especially before they went home, in case they were seeing a family member who was older or more vulnerable [to Covid-19]. We got to make sure we were all good.”

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