Win–win: Permanent PREP Act declarations benefit pharmacy staff, patients, and more
Ariel L. Clark, PharmD
The value in expansion and protection of pharmacy technicians’ capabilities provided by the ninth amendment to the PREP Act has been incalculable in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. As more than 250 million doses of the COVID-19 vaccines were provided by pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and student pharmacists, their role as protectors of public health became clear despite critical staffing shortages and a number of other challenges.
Most pharmacy leaders would agree that these provisions need to become permanent, especially in preparation for future public health crises. Christina Madison, PharmD, founder and CEO of the Public Health Pharmacist, noted in a recent Pharmacy Times article that pharmacy staff should seek out their state and federal lawmakers and ask them to protect the public by ensuring all capable pharmacy staff can continue to provide these and other lifesaving services.
The case for permanence
With the declaration of the PREP Act in March 2020, it became clear that public access to vaccinations was vitally important. With the first EUA for the Pfizer vaccine, followed by the additional EUAs for Moderna and Johnson & Johnson vaccines, Madison observed that pharmacy personnel were soon overwhelmed by the sheer volume of vaccinations provided daily at more than 40,000 pharmacy locations across the United States.
Pharmacy technicians came to the rescue with their inclusion as “qualified persons” in the ninth amendment to the PREP Act and were soon providing (in some cases) the vast majority of COVID-19 vaccines at these pharmacies.
“Technicians have now been directly involved in tens of millions of tests, immunizations, and other tasks,” said William Schimmel, executive director and CEO of the Pharmacy Technician Certification Board.
Research also supports the expanded roles of pharmacy technicians.
In the October 2021 issue of JAPhA, Demarco and colleagues compiled available research on pharmacy technicians' roles in vaccine administration. With adequate training, pharmacy technicians improved pharmacy workflow, allowing pharmacists to focus on other clinical tasks, and felt empowered in their role when performing immunizations. This systematic review went on to highlight patients’ perspectives of pharmacy technicians, which was positive due to reduced wait times and their “trusting relationship with the pharmacy team.”
“This is a mountain of data to validate [pharmacy technicians’] willingness and skill to continue this larger role,” said Schimmel.
A survey commissioned by the National Alliance of Chain Drug Stores found that 70% of Americans are in support of these expanded roles, and 68% are in favor of them becoming permanent. This far outperformed many other standard health care providers, particularly in rural communities, showing that patients rely heavily on trusted pharmacy personnel to provide them with necessary services they wouldn’t be able to receive otherwise.
“According to PTCB’s 2022 Pharmacy Technician Workforce Survey, most technicians across all pharmacy settings believed that their work during this public health crisis had a much greater impact on patient care. And despite the increased workload and responsibilities, most technicians felt a stronger sense of pride and accomplishment,” said Schimmel.
Progress thus far
In an effort to ensure pharmacy personnel, including technicians, can continue to provide critical services, nearly 100 different organizations signed a letter of support to HHS Secretary Xavier Becarra in June 2022.
This letter called for PREP Act provisions to be granted through October 2024. Signers noted their support of the continuation of the PREP Act declarations to ensure that those who want them have continued access to pharmacy personnel able to provide vaccination services.
Schimmel noted that “more than 20 states have made permanent some or all of the scope of practice additions that are part of the PREP Act” and that “continuing this progress would acknowledge pharmacy technicians as trusted health care providers who play a vital role in patient safety.”
The COVID-19 pandemic has shown that the practice of pharmacy and the role of pharmacy technicians is crucial to the protection of public health both as part of the current pandemic, but also in the event of future public health emergencies.
Without the permanent provisions allowed by the PREP Act, patients across the United States could easily find themselves without access to the care that they need. ■