Since the launch of the COVID-19 vaccination programme earlier this month (December 8), more than 137,000 people across the UK have received the first dose of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine.
While the news of the vaccine might seem to signal the beginning of the end of the pandemic and the social restrictions that were introduced to limit contagion, a high number of people still test positive for COVID-19 on a daily basis.
The PRINCIPLE COVID-19 clinical trial, run by the University of Oxford, is evaluating whether the use of two common antibiotics, azithromycin and doxycycline – and more recently inhaled corticosteroid budesonide – can help patients with COVID-19 symptoms recover at home.
Community pharmacies can help signpost eligible patients – people over 50 with certain underlying health conditions and anyone over the age of 65 – to the trial team. By displaying a poster for the PRINCIPLE trial in their branches, pharmacy contractors can help raise awareness of the trial in their local community.
Reaching different communities
National black, Asian and minority ethnic (BAME) community and pharmacy research lead and co-investigator for the PRINCIPLE COVID-19 trial Professor Mahendra Patel believes “pharmacy is the perfect platform in reaching out to communities from all areas and all backgrounds as well those most likely to be affected COVID-19”.
“It’s so encouraging that colleagues and organisations from all corners are now pulling together in the fight against this pandemic,” he says.
Community Pharmacy West Yorkshire CEO Ruth Buchan tells C+D that her local pharmaceutical committee (LPC) is encouraging all its 542 contractors to sign up to the PRINCIPLE trial.
“We have a diverse population in West Yorkshire, which includes BAME communities and [people living in] areas of high deprivation – communities which are often underrepresented within clinical trials.
“Our community pharmacy teams have frequent contact with those in our communities and are ideally placed to increase awareness and inclusion within clinical trials,” Ms Buchan says.
Luvjit Kandula is chief officer at Greater Manchester LPC, which represents 609 pharmacies. “It’s important for wider primary care to raise awareness [of the PRINCIPLE trial], to be able to recruit participants to evaluate the effectiveness of treatment to provide patients with better treatment and quicker recovery,” she says.
“This is particularly important for those affected disproportionately in the BAME community and could alleviate much distress and provide better support to patients,” Ms Kandula adds.
Jay Badenhorst, managing director of the 35-branch Whitworth Chemists, believes that “community pharmacy is perfectly located to participate in the PRINCIPLE study, as we serve patients from a variety of demographics and could help them get better quickly and stop them needing to go to hospital.
“Whitworth is proudly taking part in this study and we will be signposting all suitable patients visiting our pharmacies to sign up. We will also be having social media campaigns to highlight this important study and refer suitable patients to PRINCIPLE, even if they do not visit our pharmacies,” he says.
Independent community pharmacy chain Imaan Healthcare, which has 44 pharmacies across the UK, is also drawing attention to the PRINCIPLE trial through its branches.
“There are so many misconceptions around COVID-19, which are quickly exacerbated by social media. Community pharmacists should be engaging with people to give correct information on COVID-19 and guide their communities on looking after themselves,” superintendent pharmacist Saghir Ahmed tells C+D.
“We are quite active on social media and each of our pharmacies have their own Facebook page so that they can engage directly with their patients. Supporting the PRINCIPLE trial is part of this process,” he adds.
It only takes a few minutes to sign up your pharmacy to help the PRINCIPLE trial team source the volunteers they need. If you wish to contribute to this national effort, complete the signup form.