Technicians, other support staff stepped up during the pandemic and took on new responsibilities, which should earn them permanent respect.
If you had asked any of the nearly half million pharmacy technicians supporting pharmacy operations in 2019 whether they thought they would be administering vaccinations within a year, most would have said that they seriously doubted it. But there we all were in 2021, with emergency authorizations and the real-time training and deployment to assist with the vaccination effort for hundreds of millions of our friends and neighbors. In addition to optimizing safety and throughput for vaccines, other supporting responsibilities and tasks emerged that did not require formal authorization. Cashiers became intake specialists for patients staying in their vehicles in parking lots, delivery drivers became screeners and messengers for pharmacists checking on patients, and the entire workforce became experts in handling personal protective equipment and infectious disease testing specimens.
Emergency Authorizations Are Nearing An End
The federal government’s public health emergency for COVID-19, declared under Section 319 of the Public Health Service Act, is set to expire on May 11, 2023. As the US Department of Health & Human Services’ most recent fact sheet says, “There will be continued access to pathways for emergency use authorizations for COVID-19 products [tests, vaccines, and treatments] through the FDA, and major telehealth flexibilities will continue to exist for those participating in Medicare or Medicaid.”
We can hope that with continued vigilance at the federal level or new authorizations for pharmacist ordering and prescribing that technician administration of vaccines in community pharmacy will remain for many years to come. Taking a step backward would prevent progress not only with the COVID-19 response but also with responses to chronic diseases, such as behavioral health conditions and diabetes, and infectious diseases, such as influenza. Pharmacies serve their communities best when the full workforce can work at the top of their capabilities.
Support Staff Drive Success
Future pharmacies will boast capable, effective, and efficient nonpharmacist workforces. Pharmacists will do far less, not more, with respect to the broad set of tasks needed to operate a bustling pharmacy with multiple services lines. With the ability to focus on clinical decision-making and more complex and intensive cases that need coaching and support, pharmacists will rely more on their nonpharmacist colleagues who work just as diligently and passionately for patients.
Thank You for Helping Us Chart a Sustainable Future
Here is a tip of the hat to all individuals who helped us through the COVID-19 pandemic response and a thank you for their willingness to take on new responsibilities and roles. Nonpharmacists are becoming experts in areas of care, including diabetes-related supplies, health risk assessments, and telepharmacy support. Pharmacists like me look forward to working with these pharmacy professionals closely as we develop sustainable models of service delivery, and we vow to provide them with the responsibilities and recognition they deserve.
About the Author
Troy Trygstad, PharmD, PhD, MBA, is the executive director of CPESN USA, a clinically integrated network of more than 3500 participating pharmacies.
Fact sheet: COVID-19 public health emergency transition roadmap. News release. US Department of Health & Human Services. February 9, 2023. Accessed March 20, 2023. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2023/02/09/fact-sheet-covid-19-public-health-emergency-transition-roadmap.html