FIP – Supporting our members through the COVID-19 pandemic

USA planning biggest vaccination effort in its history

As COVID-19 cases surge in the USA and the prospect of a vaccine becomes imminent, public health officials are getting ready for the biggest vaccination programme in the country’s history. Possibly, the drive could begin among health workers in December, provided the Food and Drug Administration approves COVID-19 vaccines for emergency use as they come on track. As the roll-out progresses, vaccine providers will include some pharmacies, and states are working to expand the number involved. Smaller pharmacies, however, are unlikely to be able to take part because of the extremely low temperature storage requirements of some vaccines. Information on how different states are gearing up for the mass vaccination programme can be found here.

Cold chain COVID-19 vaccine requirements are a challenge for Africa

Most African countries are going to find it challenging to meet the cold chain requirements for distributing COVID-19 vaccines, according to Lenias Hwenda, a Geneva-based immunologist and CEO of Medicines For Africa. Currently, most African countries have limited cold chain transport and storage facilities for very-low-temperature vaccines. Writing in African Arguments, Dr Hwenda, who was born in Zimbabwe, called for strategic investment in improving Africa’s cold chain infrastructure for safely distributing COVID-19 vaccine around the continent. This, she said, would “fill a public health gap and serve the needs of nations and the people of Africa beyond the COVID-19 pandemic”.

Madrid calls for EU help to validate COVID-19 antigen testing in pharmacies

Madrid and Catalonia, Spain, want authorisation from the Spanish Medicines Agency (SMA) for community pharmacies to carry out antigen tests for COVID-19. Such tests are an especially effective virus detection system in cities. However, epidemiologists and health workers have expressed concerns about what they say is pharmacies’ lack of “care competencies”. Some suggest pharmacies are not a safe environment and could become sources of contagion, and the SMA has so far refused to authorise testing in pharmacies. Madrid officials have now written to Ursula von der Leyen, president of the European Commission, seeking help in validating community pharmacy testing. Their arguments include that such testing is already carried out safely in France, Portugal, UK, Australia, Canada and the USA.

French pharmacies’ COVID-19 antigen testing included in national statistics

According to human data science company IQVIA, more than 300,000 COVID-19 antigenic tests have been carried out in 14,000 community pharmacies across France, and the proportion of patients testing positive is increasing as a result of these rapid tests. However, before 15 November, results of pharmacy tests did not have to be reported in France’s national population screening information database, meaning that epidemic monitoring statistics reported daily by Public Health France may have been distorted. These statistics indicated a drop in the incidence of coronavirus cases between October and November, and despite other factors being involved, the possibility that pharmacy antigen testing might have made a difference to this before mid-November has not been ruled out. Since 15 November, pharmacies have been required to register their test results in the national database, and French Health Minister Olivier Véran has confirmed that these will now be included in the daily accounts.

COVID-19 antigen tests now available in some Austrian pharmacies

The Austrian Ministry of Health has confirmed that healthy, COVID-19 symptom-free people may now access rapid antigen tests from appropriately trained staff in some community pharmacies. The move has come about because many people showing no symptoms want to know their infection status. Positive results must be reported to district health authorities or magistrates, and a subsequent PCR test will be required to rule out the possibility of false-positive results.

Three new episodes offered in “Transforming vaccination” programme

Three new episodes in the third series of our “Transforming vaccination globally and regionally” programme will be available next week. All can be joined free of charge. Episode 3.1, focusing on progress, barriers and challenges in the European region, will take place on 1 December at 14:00 CET Join here. Episode 3.2, focusing on South East Asian countries, will take place on 2 December at 11:00 CET. Join here. Episode 3.3, focusing on the Eastern Mediterranean region, will take place on 3 December at 14:00 CET. Join here.