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New Law Makes Idaho Pharmacy Techs The First To Deliver Immunizations

A new law went into effect in early April making Idaho the first state to train pharmacy technicians to deliver immunizations to patients under pharmacist supervision. The purpose of this law is to expand access to health care for patients, improve immunization rates, empower pharmacy techs, and free up time for pharmacists to focus more on clinical duties.

According to the Bureau of Labor’s May 2020 statistics, there are over 415,310 pharmacy techs employed in the United States. Pharmacy technicians in Idaho, on average, earn a mean hourly wage of $17.43 and $36,250 annually. A high concentration of pharmacy techs is employed in retail locations but these jobs pay less than pharmacy tech jobs in settings like physicians’ offices and outpatient care centers. These non-retail locations pay closer to $20 per hour.

In terms of their educational requirements, pharmacy technicians must have their high school diploma. To begin working as a pharmacy technician in Idaho, a person must pass the Pharmacy Technician Certification Exam. They be also register with the Idaho State Board of Pharmacy or receive certification an approved certification board and be fingerprinted in the process.

The new law recently put in place in Idaho has opened a lot of questions from pharmacists, technicians, and patients about the effect that these changes will have on the industry. Several people have expressed concern over whether most pharmacy technicians are responsible enough to safely administer immunizations.

Some pharmacists are reluctant to pass over their duties and take on the liability that comes with allowing workers who have only completed high school to immunize patients under their supervision. Pharmacists in Idaho can give almost any type of vaccination, with potential - but rare - side effects ranging from soreness, cough and fever to vomiting, diarrhea and seizure. What happens if a patient reacts badly to an immunization and the pharmacist isn’t readily available to help?

According to the recently approved changes, pharmacists in Idaho are now able to delegate the administration of immunizations to a pharmacy technician who:

“Holds a current certification in basic life support for healthcare providers offered by the American Heart Association or a comparable Board-recognized certification program that includes cardiopulmonary resuscitation (CPR) and automated electronic defibrillator (AED) training and requires a hands-on skills assessment by an authorized instructor,” and, “Has successfully completed a course on appropriate immunization administration techniques by an ACPE-accredited provider or a comparable course.”

Other tasks that require clinical judgement and knowledge, such as assessment and counselling, will still be the pharmacist’s responsibility.

Supporters of these changes see the benefit in having pharmacy technicians administer immunizations, especially when it comes to providing better services in retail locations during peak vaccination months. The specific task of giving an immunization is easy to learn and does not require in-depth medical knowledge. Since this law is currently not a requirement for all pharmacy technicians, only those who are motivated to learn and trusted by the pharmacist that they work with will complete this new training.

To get a sense of how this change will affect the industry, a pilot program was launched in Idaho by Washington State University in partnership with Albertsons Companies. The pilot program has involved the development and delivering of a four-hour professional education course for pharmacists, training for 25 Albertsons and Safeway pharmacy techs, and the first immunization given by an Albertsons pharmacy technician in April 2017.

“Pharmacy technicians are integral to our business,” Alberstons SVP pharmacy, health and wellness Mark Panzer said. “We are proud to embrace the changing role of pharmacy technicians and partner with WSU to expand access to health services in Idaho. We couldn't be prouder than when our very own Samantha Thompson, a Safeway Pharmacy Technician in Coeur d'Alene, Idaho, became the first pharmacy technician in the country to administer an immunization.”

Of course, there are still several questions that have not been answered yet. Pharmacy technicians in other states have been watching these debates and wondering if there will be a time that immunizations become a required task for them. There is also the question of whether this requirement would involve a wage increase. Some pharmacy technicians have a fear of giving needles, which is what stopped them from become pharmacists in the first place. If this were to become a requirement, there is a chance that the only way out of immunization training would be to have a diagnosed phobia of needles, as has been the case for pharmacists in the past.

These new rules are being adopted slowly, but there has already been a big reaction from professionals and the public about what the new law means. Mainly, people are debating whether these changes are a good idea. The data being collected during the pilot program, which ends in May 2017, will be used to show the benefit of empowering more health professionals to give immunizations can help all those involved.

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