As the COVID-19 Public Health Emergency and PREP Act Expansions end, the ability of technicians to immunize patients in the future remains unclear.
It is well-documented that pharmacy technicians have been critical assets in the fight against COVID-19. After the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act was invoked in 2020, these essential workers assumed greater responsibility—particularly in terms of administering vaccinations—that were vital to improved pharmacy operations and community health. Pharmacies have come to rely on the support of these frontline workers to meet patient demand and expand access to vaccines. Although the Department of Health and Human Services issued an extension in May 2023 of some PREP Act authorizations until December 2024,1 the longer-term future for technicians as vaccine administrators remains unclear now that the public health emergency has officially ended.
Not only were pharmacy teams essential to pandemic recovery efforts, they have since played a key role in expanding interest in other, more common immunizations. A report published this year by the Global Healthy Living Foundation and IQVIA found that pharmacists provided more routine vaccinations than physicians, including most adult COVID-19 and shingles vaccines, and approximately 60% of vaccinations during flu season.2
Additionally, the report notes a 30% to 40% increase in claims for flu vaccines at pharmacies between 2018 and 2020.2 This growth supports overall health equity, particularly for marginalized communities, and pharmacy technicians have been fundamental to that growth.
Even before the pandemic began, populations with little to no access to primary care providers saw pharmacies as a lifeline to meet their basic health care needs. This “all hands on deck” approach requires that pharmacy teams prioritize efficiency to provide timely care, streamline workflow, and prevent employee burnout while ensuring patient safety.
A 2019 study that tracked the administration of immunizations by pharmacy technicians at a federal facility found that they improved workflow significantly, allowing pharmacists to focus on more clinical services. After administering nearly 5000 vaccinations in 1 year, the study concluded that “pharmacy technicians trained and certified to administer immunizations, increase[d] access to vaccination care, and have the potential to drastically increase the number of immunizations given and reduce the number of deaths from vaccine-preventable diseases.”3
Pharmacy technicians have been crucial team members, and they are eager to continue supporting their colleagues and patients. One national survey of pharmacy technicians found that most would be willing to administer vaccinations and that 87% of those in California felt they “should be allowed to administer immunizations after training.”4 Moreover, technicians across the country are proactively—and enthusiasti-cally—investing in specialized certification programs that empower them to provide this level of care with greater confidence.
In 2020, the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board (PTCB) launched its Immunization Administration Certificate, which quickly became one of its most popular specialty credentials, with more than 1800 certificates earned to date. This is consistent with results from a 2022 survey of pharmacy technicians conducted by PTCB. When asked about their interest in pursuing the certification, most respondents (58%) said that they were somewhat to very interested.5
For 3 years, our health care system has operated under a national directive that has elevated pharmacy technicians and empowered pharmacy teams. By taking on more responsibilities, technicians have helped shepherd this country through one of the greatest public health crises in history. In authorizing technicians to take on immunization duties, the PREP Act acknowledged their impact on their workplace and communities. This skilled, committed, and resilient workforce is crucial to safeguarding public health and advancing health equity.
1. HHS extends PREP Act for certain pharmacist and technician services. News release. American Society of Health-System Pharmacists. April 14, 2023. Accessed May 24, 2023. https://www.ashp.org/news/2023/04/14/hhs-extends-prep-act-for-cer-tain-pharmacist-and-technician-services?loginretur-nUrl=SSOCheckOnly#:~:text=Today%2C%20the%20Department%20of%20Health,PREP)%20Act%20until%20December%202024.
2. IQVIA. Trends in vaccine administration in the United States. January 13, 2023. Accessed May 24, 2023. https://www.iqvia.com/insights/the-iqvia-institute/reports/trends-in-vaccine-administration-in-the-united-states
3. McKeirnan K, Sarchet G. Implementing immunizing pharmacy technicians in a federal healthcare facility. Pharmacy. 2019;7(4):152. doi:10.3390/pharmacy7040152
4. Adams AJ, Desselle SP, McKeirnan KC. Pharmacy technician-administered vaccines: on perception and practice reality. Pharmacy. 2018;6(4):124. doi:10.3390/pharmacy6040124
5. The state of the pharmacy technician workforce. Phar-macy Technician Certification Board. 2023. Accessed May 24, 2023. https://www.ptcb.org/the-state-of-the-pharmacy-technician-workforce
About the Author
WíIlliamSchimmel is CEO and executive director of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board in Washington, DC.