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Coronavirus pandemic: Covid-19 rapid testing in pharmacies could help relieve burden

Coronavirus pandemic : Covid-19 rapid testing in pharmacies could help relieve burden

Many people want to be tested just before Christmas. This would make the already limited number of tests available even scarcer, warns the head of General Practitioners in North Rhine-Westphalia.

Just weeks before Christmas, the demand for Covid-19 rapid tests is increasing in Germany. Responding to an inquiry, the NRW Ministry of Health explained that the supply of tests is becoming scarcer and there are some reports of shortages. Right now, it isn’t only people with symptoms that are trying to get a test. Many are also concerned about infecting their families at Christmas time. "The demand for the rapid tests in our pharmacies is enormous," says Thomas Preis, Chairman of the North Rhine Pharmacists' Association. "I fully understand the need to protect others. Especially when we are getting towards the Christmas season. But we can also see that prioritization is necessary at the moment due to limited capacities.”

In fact, ordinary citizens cannot get rapid tests in pharmacies. "At present, only doctors, dentists and nursing homes can obtain rapid tests for their residents, employees and visitors, as well as home health care workers," says Preis. "At present, around six million tests are needed every month for the nursing homes alone. It will be a great challenge if the circle of people is now also expanded and if in future school students and teachers are also to be tested.”

Regulations for the sale of pharmaceutical products are currently being revised, explained the spokesman for the Health Ministry, Karl-Josef Laumann (CDU). The aim is for schools to also have access to rapid tests in the future. "The number of tests cannot be quantified at present.”

The increased demand for testing is being felt by physicians in private practice. "We are currently experiencing in our private practices that patients often ask for the tests without any specific reason," said Oliver Funken, President of the General Practitioners' Association of North Rhine-Westphalia, and warned at the same time: "This unnecessarily uses up resources. Tests are still scarce at this time and are needed much more urgently in facilities with vulnerable groups of people.”

Recently, Diakonie RW complained that facilities for the physically impaired were not sufficiently taken into account for rapid testing. The spokesman for the Ministry of Health explained that the Diakonie can buy and use rapid tests according to the Corona Test Ordinance. "Facilities that house vulnerable groups of people are even obliged to do so under the general decree of the state of North Rhine-Westphalia. As indicated, the Ministry of Labor, Health and Social Affairs is not aware of any such complaints, especially since the state has also been in close contact and coordination with independent social services on this topic on a weekly basis.”

Generally, rapid tests are available, but there are temporary shortages, especially with products from the well-known manufacturers, said a spokesperson from the pharmaceutical wholesaler Noweda. This is due to the current high demand. But there are many test manufacturers; about 140 have listed their products with the Federal Institute for Drugs and Medical Devices.

Pharmacist federation director Preis assumes that the test availability will soon be broadened. "In Switzerland, people are already being tested in pharmacies. That makes sense here too, because the rapid tests take a massive load off the laboratories, which are already working at the limits of their capacity.” This could also relieve the burden on family doctor's practices, says Preis, which will be limited in staffing in the coming months due to their helping out at vaccination centers. "Universal screening is definitely good.” However, Preis points to a problem: "Since coronavirus must be reported to health authorities, it has to be diagnosed by a doctor in order to report it properly.” Of course, one could also rely on pharmacists to perform this task.

Funken, the President of General Practitioners in Germany, explains the costs of rapid testing: If there are symptoms or someone has had contact with an infected person, then seven euros are reimbursed by the public health insurance company. "Decent tests can cost up to 15 euros, depending on the procedure. Anyone who wants to have a test for their own convenience and without any specific reason pays considerably more.” Most family doctors would refuse testing unless they deem it necessary so they don’t needlessly tie up personnel.

Considerably more tests should become available in the coming weeks. According to a spokesperson from the Health Ministry, the Federal Ministry of Health was able to obtain a commitment from the manufacturers in the form of a memorandum of understanding that a total of around 30 million tests would be made available to the domestic market from November 2020. According to the ministry, the number of rapid tests should be sufficient to cover the basic needs in the public health sector. However, the Health Ministry is striving to reach further MoUs to cover the large demand in the health care system - and also other areas - according to the NRW Health Ministry.

Orig. text: Maximilian Plück

Translation: ck