The expert panel illustrate the changing roles of pharmacists and technicians as healthcare expands and evolves from the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Ed Cohen, PharmD, FAPhA: Throughout the past 2 years, we’ve seen and received a lot of emergency-use privileges. Technicians have been able to immunize for flu and COVID-19. We see the PREP [The Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness] Act and emergency decrees by the individual states. Now things are settling a bit. We aren’t feeling this emergency as we did in the beginning. There’s talk that the PREP Act could sunset. We’re already seeing some activity in states where they’re sunsetting some of those emergency decrees. With that sunset comes the potential loss of privileges for some of the things that pharmacists have been able to do, which surely will impact the technicians. Without some proactive movement on boards of pharmacy or the legislative process, technicians may lose the opportunity to immunize. It’s a passionate area for me because I truly believe that pharmacy has risen, and suddenly there’s conversation about taking pharmacy back to where we started, where we were at the beginning of the pandemic.
Traci Poole, PharmD, BCACP, BCGP: Without technicians jumping in and taking on some of these additional roles, it would’ve been a much longer season for us. We were slammed, and the technicians being able to administer vaccines and tests helped tremendously. If many states haven’t addressed this within their policies and regulations, and they haven’t legislated technicians being able to administer, I’m afraid that my brethren in the community pharmacy are in for a very long year of flu and COVID-19 simultaneously, depending on what happens with boosters.
I’m also concerned about the pediatric ability, because these poor pediatric offices are probably going to be completely swamped with the new approvals for children. That takes some of the burden off of those offices to be able to offer other vaccines, even down to your recommended schedule for the children’s vaccines. I’m a little concerned. I’m unclear, and you guys may know. In Tennessee, we’ve addressed this. In many other states, they’re also addressing it as far as technician administration. But I don’t know how much of the country has done this. It would be unfortunate if they were to let this sunset and not make it a standard of pharmacy practice.
Ed Cohen, PharmD, FAPhA: With any immunization experience building out programs, you all know that what you see in 1 state is only 1 state. There are 50 states and 50 individual immunization programs across the country. There’s no 2 alike. It was very fortunate for the profession of pharmacy to have a federal decree that said that things could be the same across all states. That has been very refreshing for the past 2 years. The loss of that federal-level authority is huge. I don’t think the states individually are picking up the ball and running forward with it. A lot of them are picking it up and going backward. Do any of you have information about what’s going on in your state?
Wesley Nuffer, PharmD, BCPS, CDCES: We’re very similar to Traci’s in the fact that our state advocacy group moved relatively quicklyand got the technicians authorized within state law to do this. It isn’t a new idea. There were a few states that were doing this before the COVID-19 pandemic. When I first heard about it, I was very much against it because I felt that it was going to take away an essential role that the pharmacist played. But then I spoke to pharmacists in those states and found that it freed them up to have the conversations that we need to be having. It’s the education and information components that the pharmacists can give. The actual task is what the technician is helping alleviate. To Tracy’s point, we need that, and we very much need it in today’s community practice. I totally agree that this is an area where we’re now getting students coming into pharmacy school who have already done hundreds of vaccines, and it’s a tremendous thing that they can bring to the table. It’s something that technicians have shown they’re capable of doing well, and it would be a tragedy to see that go backward.
Ed Cohen, PharmD, FAPhA: We’ve heard so much conversation about making the role of the technician a career path and not just a job. By giving them these advanced privileges and opportunities, if you take them away, that destroys the career path idea and reinforces that we don’t value the technicians. As pharmacists, if you’ve ever worked behind the counter, you know how valuable the technician is. If only those who are in the decision-making seats could experience that and see firsthand just how valuable it is to have good technicians and that career path for them. It would change all their minds.
Transcript edited for clarity.