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Pharmacy technicians step up to vaccinate during pandemic

While pharmacists have traditionally held the responsibility of administering shots, the COVID-19 vaccine rollout required substantially increased capacity for pharmacies. In October 2020, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services expanded vaccine training and authorizations for pharmacy staff, including qualified pharmacy technicians and interns. With millions of shots to distribute, more trained individuals would increase the efficiency and speed needed during this critical time.

As a key provider of immunizations on campus, the MSU Health Care Pharmacy began offering training to its staff in January 2021. Technicians Mary Passage and Rebekah VanEpps were the first two MSU Health Care Pharmacy staff to volunteer and were eager to play a part in the vaccine rollout.

“As part of a university, we are constantly learning and constantly teaching,” VanEpps said. “We’re always looking for ways to improve and opportunities to learn more.”

The training for pharmacy technicians included 6 hours of online coursework and basic life-saving classes — the same programming pharmacists receive. The training covered all of the possible immunizations that a pharmacy would administer and their individual techniques and requirements. Under the supervision of MSU Health Care pharmacists, Passage and VanEpps also practiced drawing and administering saline shots.

“We learned all the information necessary to know what goes into the vaccines, and what we are putting into someone’s arm,” said Passage.

With their training complete, Passage and VanEpps were well-prepared for the first COVID-19 vaccination clinic for students on campus. On April 9, the two joined nurses from Olin Health Center to administer shots to registered students inside the student vaccination clinic at the MSU Pavilion for Agricultural and Livestock Education.

Many of the students had previously been unable to receive a vaccination, and some even traveled from their hometowns to participate. Passage and VanEpps also used their training to make students comfortable when getting their shots, helping those who were nervous with distractions or talking them through the process. In total, Passage and VanEpps administered 250 shots to students during the busy first day.

Passage and VanEpps hope their training will help add capacity to the services MSU Pharmacy offers. In addition to the COVID-19 vaccination, the pharmacy administers routine immunizations throughout the year. The trained MSU Health Care Pharmacy technicians will be able to participate in the large-scale flu vaccination on campus every fall, including the annual drive-in clinic and resource fairs for faculty and staff. Passage and VanEpps also hope their training helps to break some of the stigma around the role of pharmacy technicians.

“We want people to know that technicians have been trained just as well as the pharmacists, in the same program,” VanEpps said. “We’re an extension of the pharmacists, and just as qualified to give the vaccine.”

Beginning May 11, MSU students, faculty, staff, patients, retirees and their families also had the option to receive a COVID-19 vaccine through the MSU Health Care Pharmacy in addition to the walk-in clinic at the Pavilion. To learn more about MSU’s efforts and to sign up to receive a vaccine, visit msu.edu/together-we-will/covid19-vaccine.