Rapid tests safe, effective beyond expiry dates, Manitoba says
By Maggie Macintosh, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
WINNIPEG FREE PRESS
Despite confusion surrounding months-old expiry dates on rapid tests, the province says the products being used among unvaccinated educators and other employees in its public sector are “safe and effective.”
The date — July 10, 2021 — stamped on a plastic package containing a rapid test one unvaccinated teacher in Manitoba received from his employer made him do a double take. By the time the product was in his hands so he could begin routine testing for COVID-19, more than three months had passed since the original expiry date.
“(Testing) is totally not an issue, but the fact of the matter is: how could it be a valid test if it’s expired?” said the rural-based teacher, who must submit three negative results weekly to report to work because he is not immunized against the virus.
After learning colleagues were also given expired BD Veritor kits, the teacher has questions about their effectiveness and communication on the matter.
Manitoba has provided school divisions with thousands of Abbott Panbio and BD Veritor antigen rapid tests, which it obtained from the federal government, so they can enforce a public health order that came into effect Oct. 18.
It remains unclear how many kits were past their original best-before date upon distribution, but the province says these tests can still be used.
“While the expiry dates on some of these tests available at Manitoba facilities may have passed, these tests remain safe and effective to use by individuals in the detection of COVID-19,” a spokesperson for Shared Health wrote in an email.
A risk manager at the Manitoba School Boards Association advised school division leaders on details surrounding an extended shelf-life of BD Veritor rapid tests in a memo Oct. 8; the notice included a March 2021 bulletin from the manufacturer that states testing was complete to support tacking six months onto product expiration dates.
Health Canada recently approved an extension to allow use as far as 10 months after the expiration date on the product, if it was in 2021. Tests with expiry dates in 2022 have been approved for use up to four months after the original date.
Ottawa also green-lit a shelf-life extension for Abbott Panbio tests in September, increasing their expiry date from 12 months to 24.
“We should have zero room for error on this,” said Lauren Hope, a teacher and parent in Winnipeg who heads Safe September MB. “If there’s any question about these not being robust enough to pick up COVID, then it’s too big of a risk to be using expired tests on unvaccinated teachers that are in close contact with vulnerable populations.”
For months, the collective that advocates for heightened public health measures in schools has been calling on Manitoba to supply students with rapid tests. Had the province distributed the tests in the spring for families to use during the third wave, it could have both avoided concerns about expiry and kept schools open, said Hope.
The province indicated last week roughly 11 per cent of education staff require frequent testing.
— with files from Danielle Da Silva