The Role of the Pharmacy Technician Expanded During the COVID-19 Pandemic

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The pandemic was eye-opening for many pharmacists, and one expert reflects on recognizing the importance of the pharmacy technician and accessible healthcare.

Pharmacy Times caught up with Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, PharmD, MPH, AAHIVP, Assistant Professor of Clinical Pharmacy, University of California, San Diego, to discuss noteworthy updates about COVID-19 vaccinations, technician responsibilities, and accessible medication at APhA 2023 Annual Meeting & Exposition.

PT Staff: What can vaccine schedules look like going forward? Will they reflect immunization schedules?

Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, PharmD, MPH, AAHIVP: That is a fantastic question. I am so excited for the new immunization schedules. Actually, APhA was included for the first time on the immunization schedule released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and COVID-19 is actually there. So it is there as a vaccine that we are to receive, especially the updated boosters. So it was listed there on the immunization schedule. Now, if it's going to be an annual vaccine that is left to be known, however, what I can foresee in the future is likely being the case, eventually at some point. And I do I absolutely think that it will continue to remain as a part of the immunization schedule. And I'm really excited APHA has a role there.

PT Staff: How did the role of the pharmacy technician expand during the pandemic?

Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, PharmD, MPH, AAHIVP: So the role of the pharmacy technician really expanded and I was so happy to see it, honestly, because pharmacy techs are just such an important place; and then with me doing a lot of health equity work, pharmacy technicians are where we are more likely to see the racial concordance. So, it was so exciting to be able to see them involved in that way and to see the patients really connect with the pharmacy technicians. So, I had a pharmacy technician who was employed by a friend of mine who had her own pharmacy, and the pharmacy technician would come with us to the vaccine clinics, and she was spectacular. She was very helpful for organizing the students for ensuring that the vaccination processes went as well as they should have. And she was really excited to be involved in that way, and [also] to have, you know, that additional qualification to add to her resume, and to do the work. So I was so excited to see pharmacy technicians and just their role being expanded as well.

PT Staff: Can growing technician responsibilities improve overall access to healthcare? If so, how?

Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, PharmD, MPH, AAHIVP: I think that it is never harmful to have more people that can do this type of work. I think it is so amazing that pharmacists have really just shown how important, and just critical, we are to ensuring that people have access to vaccines. But like I said, when we think about vaccine equity, we have pharmacy technicians that are racially concordant and are able to maybe come in and impact that educational factor, but then also assist with that agency because they can relate to the patients. So, I think that them in terms of access and increasing access, they are going to have a humongous role in doing that work, so I'm super excited.

PT Staff: What new insights do you think general pharmacy practice gained about patients following the pandemic?

Jacinda Abdul-Mutakabbir, PharmD, MPH, AAHIVP: I think that this was the most eye-opening experience that I've ever had and I don't think that I ever foresaw all of the things that COVID-19 brought to light. So the biggest thing being there; folks do have limitations and taking the medications. But I think it forced us into this place of not thinking of adherence from the perspective of well, people just don't want to take their medications. Well, now we're thinking about it from the perspective of healthcare access. Do they have optimal access to these medications? And now we're in this place where we have to reevaluate other procedures and policies that are in place for accessibility, even when we think about telehealth or being a pharmacist working in that way, you know, to consult and to talk to patients about their medications, that necessarily wasn't the norm before the pandemic.

So now we're in this place where we can increase medication adherence, but we're making it more accessible. And then also, I think that we saw that agency just wasn't something that was impacting vaccine uptake, but just medication adherence, in general, because having someone just direct you to take this medication is different than someone telling you what the medication is for why you need to use it, where the limitations tonight using it. So now when I'm talking to patients, people with comorbidities where they have diabetes or hypertension [and] are more likely to have severe COVID-19, I'm able to explain that intersection to them. So then now they're like, “Ah, I need to take my medication, you know, because if I don't, then I'll be more at risk of getting sick with these really bad viruses, because my body won't be able to withstand them.” So I think that has really made it easier, honestly, for me to have those conversations about medication adherence. So, I think that COVID-19 has allowed for us to kind of expose the deficiencies and how it is providing care before but using those deficiencies to lead how it is that we will provide care in the future.

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