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‘Pharmacies should deliver COVID-19 antibody tests’

“We need to strike while the iron is hot regardless of the pitfalls”

Providing COVID-19 antibody tests as a pharmacy service would increase workload but help to show the public what the sector is capable of, says The Multiple Manager

COVID-19 has led to many unforeseen consequences so far, and in the world of pharmaceuticals, that has entailed an arms race to produce vaccines, treatments and tests.

While the likes of Dyson and McLaren pitched plans to produce ventilators with the speed and efficiency normally associated with their flagship products, some of the companies more seasoned in making healthcare items have been quietly developing a product with a potential way out of this crisis – antibody test kits.

Manufacturers Roche and Abbott, two of the biggest names in general diagnostic test, have taken an early lead in what will no doubt be a huge market over the next few years. Their COVID-19 antibody tests are potential game-changers in our fight against the pandemic and could be used to identify members of the population that may have some immunity to the virus.

While there is no guarantee that people who have had the virus before will have immunity against a second infection, the lack of a vaccine means the tests are the best option we have to allow society to slowly make its way back to some form of normality.

A positive test for antibodies could eventually lead to some form of COVID-19 immunity passport, allowing the person to move more freely than others. This sort of prospect will no doubt entice the millions of people currently losing the will to live in isolation. I anticipate that the demand for these tests will be astronomical.

Dealing with a high level of demand could cause a logistical headache for the government, and it may look no further than the national network of community pharmacies to play a key role in the rollout of these tests.

As usual, we in pharmacy are perfectly placed to provide the service – but to what extent will we be involved? Superdrug announced in May, with great fanfare, that it was selling home sampling kits for a mere £69, but has suspended their sale after the Medicines and Healthcare products Regulatory Agency questioned their reliability. Home test kits are relatively straightforward. But, having listened to a virologist’s description of the kits, if you don’t work in a lab they may be tricky to get right the first time around.

The likelihood is that tests will have to be carried out by pharmacists in the pharmacy – an idea that feels quite alien at the moment. The thought of the extra workload in cleaning the consultation room in between tests is giving me heartburn. Not to mention what else will follow: a long-winded consultation; squeamish patients complaining about a finger prick test; and inevitably inefficient paperwork.

I envisage a fully paper-based system where we have to write the same things 10 times, before sending smoke signals to alert a delivery driver to pick up the sample.

Regardless of the regular pitfalls, we as a profession need to strike while the iron is hot. GP surgeries will no doubt feel this belongs in their domain. Dentists have been sitting around inflicting no pain on anyone – stabbing someone’s finger could be right in their wheelhouse.

Similar to flu season, pharmacies always seem to cope with a higher workload when called upon. While it’s a basic service, performing these tests for millions of people who may normally never set foot in a pharmacy will help the general public to identify us as the clinical professionals we truly are.

The Multiple Manager works in a Northern Irish branch of a pharmacy chain

7 Comments

Cymraeg Locum, Locum pharmacist

Sounds a reckless and dangerous proposal to me.

The enclosed and confined space within a pharmacy consultation room should not be used to provide a service to patients who potentially have a highly infectious pandemic causing disease. The potential for a member of the public to come in for a test when still displaying symptoms or has not completed their self isolation period is very real. Not to mention a patient who may be in the early infectious period before symptoms have even started displaying.

A more appropriate clinical setting should be used.

Not-So-Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

But this is the ANTIBODY test not the antigen test so the person SHOULD be a recovered one. You don't do the antibody test on anyone displaying symptoms. Still won't do them though.

Kevin Western, Community pharmacist

No flu vaccine service then!

Not-So-Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Getting a few mixed messages about this issue - some pharmacies have offered it, had the kits withdrawn, now someone is saying we should be offering them. Which is it to be chaps??

As I understand it, the tests themselves are OK but it is the method by which blood is taken which is causing an issue. As it involves taking a capillary blood sample rather than a simple finger prick, a member of the public may not have taken it properly. Therefore they can't be 100% sure that the result will be valid. If it has been done by someone who has had a bit of training, then there isn't an issue.

You'd have thought this would have been considered before being sold to the public. Another case of ploughing in without any joined up multi-agency thinking, not for the first time.

Not-So-Lucky Ex-Locum, Superintendent Pharmacist

Yeah, just been told it involves rather a lot of blood!

C A, Community pharmacist

Being that the official test has something like a 30% false negative rate, I'm surprised that the MHRA were in a position to question anyone about their tests.

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