‘Becoming an exposure site places huge pressure on a pharmacy.’

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The ACT’s Chief Minister has signalled wider use of rapid antigen tests, while pharmacists call for funded tests

Chief Minister Andrew Barr told reporters this week that some fully vaccinated people may still contract COVID-19, and spread it in the community as they do not realise they have it.

“One of the worries moving forward is that fully vaccinated people, a lot of them will be asymptomatic,” he said.

Mr Barr said that rapid antigen testing could likely play a larger role in helping identify such cases so they can isolate.

The Pharmaceutical Society of Australia’s ACT branch pointed out that a significant number of pharmacies have been among exposure sites in the ACT, necessitating temporary closures.

Since the ACT entered lockdown on 12 August, there have been 82 COVID-19 exposures in 37 of the ACT’s 82 pharmacies, it said, saying such closures, while workers get tested, impact the community’s access to medicines. 

By introducing and funding rapid antigen testing for pharmacists and their staff, pharmacists will be able to monitor their workforce more closely and get back to work sooner after a potential workplace COVID-19 exposure, it says.

It welcomed Mr Barr’s comments on rapid antigen testing and urged the ACT Government to fund such testing for ACT pharmacies as a matter of priority.

“Becoming an exposure site places huge pressure on a pharmacy,” said PSA ACT branch president Renae Beardmore.

“They will often need to reduce their hours or services if their staff are required to quarantine. Delays in contact tracing and receiving test results add to these pressures.

“At $10 a test, this a very cheap but worthwhile investment for the ACT Government. Rapid antigen testing would allow asymptomatic pharmacy employees to be tested quickly, ensuring a safer workplace and maintaining community access to medicines and services. 

“Achieving our vaccination targets is absolutely the first step in order for Canberra to come out of lockdown.

“However, the second crucial step is to introduce rapid antigen testing for asymptomatic Canberrans – and pharmacies need to be prioritised. 

“Pharmacists have done a great job protecting their staff and the community from exposure to COVID-19 in community pharmacy, by wearing of PPE and implementing other distancing measures.

“Rapid antigen testing now needs to play a significant role in reducing isolation periods of essential workers and identifying infection prior to onset of symptoms in high risk settings – such as pharmacies,” Ms Beardmore said.

Rapid Antigen Testing will allow community pharmacies to bring their workforce back sooner while awaiting PCR test results, says PSA.

As these are returned in less than 15 minutes, negative rapid antigen tests will provide health authorities and community pharmacies the confidence to reopen sooner to ensure their communities continue to have access to essential medicines and health services such as vaccinations, it said.

Meanwhile Mr Barr also told Canberrans that the Moderna vaccine is now available in Territory pharmacies for people aged 12 and over.

He encouraged them to contact their pharmacy to find out whether they can access the vaccine as quickly as possible.

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