During COVID-19, pharmacy technicians helped keep immunization programs running.
The role of pharmacy technicians in immunizations has evolved rapidly, particularly over the past 2 years because of COVID-19. Prior to the pandemic, pharmacy technicians for the most part were limited to assisting pharmacists in basic tasks related to immunizations. These included screening patients, preparing for the immunization, and performing administrative tasks required for immunization programs.
In 2016, Idaho led the way in expanding the role of pharmacy technicians to include administering immunizations.1 Through a pilot program, researchers wanted to evaluate the potential effectiveness of immunization training for pharmacy technicians, and the results were clear: All pharmacy technicians taking part in the study passed their assessments on the first attempt.1 These same technicians went on to administer 953 immunizations over a 6-month period with zero adverse effects.1 The momentum for pharmacy technician-administered immunizations continued in Michigan, Washington state, Rhode Island, Utah, and Nevada.
Although pharmacy organizations and advocates, such as the National Pharmacy Technician Association (NPTA), planned for a state-by-state campaign to expand the role of pharmacy technicians in immunization administration, no one could have anticipated what was to come.
In August 2020, with COVID-19 running rampant throughout the country, the US Department of Health and Human Services amended the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act to authorize qualified pharmacy technicians to administer immunizations in all 50 states, regardless of state-specific regulations.2 These qualifications included completing a training program approved by the Accreditation Council for Pharmacy Education, being nationally certified or registered to practice in the technician’s state, having a current certificate in cardiopulmonary resuscitation, and practicing with a licensed pharmacist onsite.3
The goal of amending the PREP Act was to help states and US territories meet the demand for COVID-19 vaccines and protect communities as much as possible3—a crucial decision as the nation prepared for the largest immunization event in world history.
As of this writing, more than 258 million Americans have received at least 1 dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and over 576 million COVID-19 vaccine doses have been administered in the United States. It is inconceivable that this accomplishment could have taken place without pharmacy technicians.
Pharmacy technicians have demonstrated, beyond any doubt or concern, their ability and willing- ness to play a vital, direct role in the administration of immunizations. So, what happens next?
Our focus must now shift to the pending sunset of the authorization prescribed under the PREP Act and what steps the states will take to ensure that qualified, trained pharmacy technicians are permitted to continue serving the public through immunization administration. NPTA believes that the state boards of pharmacy, or state legislative bodies where necessary, must act swiftly and decisively to make this a permanent, authorized role for qualified pharmacy technicians—after all, how can anyone justify saying that these individuals were qualified to safely administer immunizations throughout the pandemic but are now no longer qualified because the demand for vaccines is stabilizing? This is a genie that should not and must not be placed back in the bottle.
1. McKeirnan KC, Frazier KR, Nguyen M, MacLean LG. Training pharmacy technicians to administer immunizations. J Am Pharm Assoc. 2018;58(2):174-178.e1. doi:10.1016/j.japh.2018.01.003
2. More than 11.6 billion shots given: COVID-19 tracker. Bloomberg. Updated May 4, 2022. Accessed May 5, 2022. https://www.bloomberg.com/graphics/covid-vaccine-tracker-global-distribution/#us
3. HHS amends PREP Act Declaration to increase workforce authorized to administer COVID-19 vaccines. News release. US Department of Health & Human Services. January 28, 2021. Accessed May 5, 2022. https://www.hhs.gov/about/news/2021/01/28/hhs-amends-prep-act-declaration-increase-workforce-authorized-administer-covid-19-vaccines.html