Vaccine Rollout Opens New Horizons
Pharmacy technicians should consider becoming certified immunizers to help with this essential task.
The coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has been nothing short of devastating for people all around the world.
As health care workers, pharmacy technicians witness hurt and pain firsthand when providing care to patients. They saw patients’ confusion and fear about the future. For some people, the pandemic may have been about missing out on fun outings, but for many others it was about survival. Many individuals were concerned about whether they would be able to get their medication refills and what would happen if a pharmacy closed or ran out of medication. Some were concerned about whether it was even safe to go to the pharmacy. Techs do their best with the resources they have to accommodate patient needs, taking pride in excellent care and transparency.
The pandemic challenged techs and other health care workers because it was difficult to know how to comfort patients. Once vaccines for COVID-19 became available, there was an increased feeling of hope.
Being knowledgeable and providing the best care to patients while complying with federal and state laws is the most important part of a tech’s job. Techs take the time to learn about the vaccines through the most reliable sources so they can provide the most accurate information to patients. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is the most reliable government source of information for health care professionals and patients. It offers information about the effectiveness and safety of the available vaccines as well as when and where individuals can receive the vaccines. There are 3 COVID-19 vaccines authorized for use in the US, from Moderna, Pfizer-BioNTech, and, most recently, Johnson & Johnson/Janssen. The vaccines were evaluated in tens of thousands of participants in clinical trials. The Moderna vaccine is administered to patients aged 18 years and older via 2 doses 28 days apart. The Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine is administered to patients 16 years and older via 2 doses at least 21 days apart. The Johnson & Johnson/Janssen vaccine is administered to patients 18 years and older and requires 1 dose. All 3 vaccines met the United States Food and Drug Administration’s scientific standards for effectiveness, manufacturing quality, and safety needed to support emergency use authorization.1
As of March 30, 2021, there were more than 30 million total cases of COVID-19 in the United States.2 With the high number of cases and huge demands for vaccines, pharmacists and physicians have been overwhelmed.
In response, the US Department of Health and Human Services has passed several regulations, including one allowing qualified techs to receive training to become certified to immunize patients under the supervision of a pharmacist. With millions of Americans needing to be vaccinated to help achieve herd immunity, this was great news for techs, knowing that they could directly contribute to ending the pandemic.
Over the years, the role of techs has evolved dramatically. Years ago, techs primarily worked as cashiers or clerks, but now many states require that they hold a national certification or state license. Techs these days work directly with insurance companies and patients and communicate with physicians and other pharmacy professionals. From managing inventory to performing reconciliations or resolving insurance issues, the role that techs play continues to expand. Techs work in various pharmacy specialty settings in the community and at hospitals, carrying more responsibility with increased compensation.
Playing a role in vaccinating patients during the pandemic is a huge step, and there are various programs available to help techs become certified. The specific training program I attended was hosted by the California Pharmacists Association. It consisted of an online self-study component and a virtual seminar via Zoom that taught me and other techs hands-on immunization techniques. We then had the opportunity to practice immunizing a partner in adherence to COVID-19 guidelines. Upon completion of the program, a final exam was administered, and those who passed received a certificate. The program provided a total of 6 hours of continuing education.
Other requirements for techs to be able to immunize under the supervision of a pharmacist may include having a valid CPR license and completing bloodborne pathogens and other potentially infectious materials training, most likely offered by the employer.
The pandemic has shown that techs can be an asset in providing proper patient care. This is certainly a step in the right direction, not only to provide more job opportunities and growth for techs, but also to engender respect from patients and other health care workers. With so many programs available in different states to help techs become immunizers, it would benefit pharmacies greatly for all techs to become certified immunizers. Taking this step would provide even greater opportunities for techs, even after the pandemic is over, and every tech should consider taking advantage of this amazing opportunity.
Neda Derakhshanian, CPhT, RPhT, is a certified pharmacy technician III at UC Davis Health in Sacramento, California.
- Different COVID-19 vaccines. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Updated March 4, 2021. Accessed March 7, 2021. https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/vaccines/different-vaccines.html
- COVID data tracker. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Accessed March 7, 2021. https://covid.cdc.gov/covid-data-tracker/#datatracker-home