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COVID-19 through the eyes of a pharmacy assistant

Pharmacy assistants are used to seeing it all, but nothing could've prepared anyone for COVID-19....
Pharmacy assistant with gloves at register, EFTPOS machine in cling wrap. Image: Stephanie Clarke

Pharmacy assistants are used to seeing it all. Ingrown toenails, fungal infections, burns, open wounds … you name it. Although no two days in pharmacy are the same, nothing could have prepared us for the Coronavirus.

The Coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has had a major impact on pharmacies and the pharmaceutical industry as a whole. Panic-buying of items such as products containing paracetamol, hand sanitiser, face masks and sanitary pads have caused extensive shortages.

The initial panic began towards the end of February, with customers rushing into the shop looking for two things, face masks and hand sanitiser. Due to the amount of people asking for them, we created a waiting list, which has now grown to around 300 names.

In mid-March, the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) announced that pharmacists would only be able to supply one month’s worth of certain prescription medication. They also announced that certain non-prescription medication such as paracetamol, would be limited to one per person.

As the weeks went on, people were forced to become more resourceful, as most of what they wanted was out of stock. They began to stock up on isopropyl alcohol and aloe vera gel. Which, you guessed it, they were using to create their own hand sanitiser!

Sign explaining the one per person limit. Image: Stephanie Clarke

Tensions began to rise as we enforced the TGA’s limits. People became furious about the fact that they could no longer get multiple months’ supply of their prescription medication and that they couldn’t buy two boxes of children’s paracetamol.

The children’s paracetamol section. Image: Stephanie Clarke

Our pharmacy is located in a shopping centre and is next door to Woolworths. It became apparent that people were coming into our store to get items that they could no longer find in Woolworths.

We were unable to cope with this massive influx of customers, even though we began to limit in-demand items to one per person. Before we knew it, there were hardly any sanitary pads or toothpaste and no tissues, baby wipes or soap.

The sanitary pads section. Image: Stephanie Clarke

These uncertain times have called for safety measures to be put in place to ensure that staff members and customers feel safe in our store, they include:

  • No longer offering beauty services (makeup application, consultations)
  • No longer doing ear piercing
  • Removing all testers (makeup included)
  • Placing cling wrap on the EFTPOS machines and changing it hourly
  • Wearing gloves when on the register
  • More frequent cleaning of surfaces and baskets
  • Social distancing is being enforced (crosses marked on floor for customers to safely stand on)

 

Social distancing being enforced at the dispensary. Image: Stephanie Clarke

One of my colleagues, Sue Lewis, has worked in the pharmacy sector for 29 years. “I’ve never experienced anything like what is currently going on,” she told me.

“I’m not really very stressed about the virus, I’ve been trying to reassure myself that we’re going to be okay.

“We’ve got intelligent people in the area who are going to do the right thing and stay home and self-isolate,” she said.

As pharmacies have been classified as an essential service and are therefore excluded from being shut down, staff are confident that things will remain the same for a while.