Pharmacy Technicians Supporting COVID-19 Immunization Clinics

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This month marked the one year anniversary of COVID-19 being characterized as a pandemic. In response to the pandemic, pharmacy teams have played key roles in meeting patients’ and the public’s needs. From compounding hand sanitizer, facilitating delivery services, taking on new roles as contact tracers, and managing immunization programs, pharmacy technicians stepped up when needed most. With the increased rollout of Alberta Health’s COVID-19 vaccine program, pharmacy technicians were needed once again at public health clinics in the Edmonton zone.

Providing Vaccine Reconstitution Services

Jamie Burkett and Darren Pooke were two of the first pharmacy technicians to provide vaccine reconstitution services in Edmonton COVID-19 immunization clinics earlier this month. One of the goals of Alberta Health’s vaccine program is to have Albertans vaccinated as fast as supply allows. The expertise of Alberta Health Services’ pharmacy technicians has improved the flow of patients through the Edmonton clinics. Vials of Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine must be diluted prior to administration. Before and after dilution the vial must be inverted several times. Darren says, “by ensuring they (clinic immunizers) had a constant supply of vaccine they were able to focus on vaccinating without having to stop and recon vials themselves”.

Excitement for a New Role

Darren, a pharmacy technician at the Royal Alexandra Hospital in Edmonton, has 35 years of practice experience to draw on. He has seen the profession evolve by leaps and bounds since 1986 when he graduated from Red Deer College. He says his experiences have ranged from “simply counting tablets and typing labels and filling ward stock to first dose checking and patient interaction…with so much in between.” When Darren was first asked to help at one of the Edmonton clinics, he felt “excitement and some nerves for sure.” Jamie had a similar response: “I was super excited and happy to be part of the process and that pharmacy technicians would be playing a role in getting Albertans vaccinated against the COVID-19 virus. I think it was a great idea to use the right resources (pharmacy techs) for this task so nurses could focus on administering the vaccine.”

Adjusting to a New Practice Setting

Jamie has been a pharmacy technician for 18 years. For most of that time she has practiced at the University of Alberta Hospital (UAH) Pharmacy. She has experience in virtually every pharmacy technician role at UAH including sterile compounding. Jamie is currently the Quality Assurance Lead for the Edmonton zone. Jamie describes that when she first arrived at the clinic “there wasn’t a solid plan but the team was great, everyone worked collaboratively, trialed a couple of ideas and landed on a process that was efficient and seemed to work.” For Jamie, experience in sterile compounding was an asset. She says, “I was able to apply my knowledge of aseptic technique in a non-sterile environment.” Darren’s experience working in one of the biggest and busiest hospitals in Edmonton, along with many years of sterile product preparation experience also helped him to quickly adjust and cope with the fast paced clinic environment.

What’s Next?

The introduction of pharmacy technician services at the clinics has been a huge success. The clinics continue to be staffed daily by pharmacy technicians and many pharmacy technicians have had the opportunity to fulfill this new role. Jamie thinks that pharmacy technicians could be responsible for managing inventory, ensuring storage conditions are being met and drawing up doses to reduce wastage. There may even be opportunities beyond that. She says, “It would be great to see the scope of pharmacy technicians expand to administer vaccines. Pharmacies could assist in relieving pressures from the clinic, without taking pharmacists away from their clinical responsibilities.” Darren echoes that sentiment: “Our profession’s growth and possibilities are endless. I’m sure our future holds much more exciting changes and challenges ahead.”

How do you think the pharmacy technician’s role will evolve to support the pandemic response? Share your comments below.

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