URI College of Pharmacy trains pharmacists, technicians to deliver COVID-19 vaccine

KINGSTON, R.I. — January 11, 2020 — With the production of the COVID-19 vaccine, the end of the pandemic is on the horizon. While there’s still a long way to go, University of Rhode Island College of Pharmacy faculty and staff members continue their efforts to hasten the end of the deadly pandemic, training pharmacists and pharmacy technicians to administer the vaccine.

Under new COVID health regulations, pharmacy technicians are allowed to administer the vaccine, necessitating training for those who hadn’t previously vaccinated. They join pharmacists, who were granted the right to vaccinate in Rhode Island about 10 years ago. Mary-Jane Kanaczet, director of the College’s Office of Continuing Professional Development for the Health Professions, received a license from the American Pharmacists Association to provide the training, and taught 33 pharmacy techs and 29 pharmacists recently, including Paul Larrat, dean of the College of Pharmacy.

“There were primarily pharmacy technicians in the training, but we also had a handful of pharmacists trained,” Larrat said. “This is in addition to the hundreds of students who we’ve trained in recent years to administer vaccines. They get certified early on — in their second professional year — and they’re able to begin administering vaccines in pharmacies, under the supervision of a pharmacist.”

Originally developed by Washington State University and recently revised through a partnership between WSU and the American Pharmacists Association, the Pharmacy-Based Immunization Administration by Pharmacy Technicians training program explores the expanding role of the pharmacy technician by providing additional skills training to administer immunizations. The two-part program emphasizes a healthcare team collaboration between pharmacists and technicians, which aims to improve population health by increasing immunization rates in states that allow technicians to immunize.

Composed of an online self-study component combined with a live seminar that teaches hands-on immunization techniques, the program offers six hours of continuing education for technicians and pharmacists. Director of Experiential Education Brett Feret and Coordinator of Accreditation and Assessment Matthew Lacroix headed up the class that begins with a CPR certification from the American Heart Association. The four-hour long course covers all aspects of administering a vaccine, from specific patient considerations like how to choose the right size needle, to specific instruction on the proper technique of injecting the vaccine. The pharmacy techs then practice injecting sterile saline in each other, an important lesson for new vaccinators.

“It is a new regulation that pharmacy techs are allowed to inject,” Feret said, noting the techs are immunizing health care workers and nursing home residents, and will likely do the same in pharmacies once the vaccine is available to the public at large. “Obviously, that’s mostly due to the pandemic that this program was created to increase the number of vaccinators to help meet the critical demand.”

Trainees specifically learn to:

  • Describe proper technique when drawing up and administering immunizations.
  • Recognize commonly used vaccines and their corresponding routes of administration.
  • Distinguish proper needle length selection based on vaccine and patient age and size.
  • Identify proper documentation procedures.
  • Recall vaccine storage requirements.
  • Describe safety measures to avoid accidental needle stick injuries.
  • Recognize appropriate actions to take in emergency situations.
  • Demonstrate a successful technique when administering an intramuscular and subcutaneous injection.
  • Demonstrate appropriate distraction techniques during immunization administration.
  • Demonstrate the use of universal precautions as they pertain to blood borne pathogens.
  • Explain the procedures for managing a vaccine reaction emergency.

The training is just one way URI College of Pharmacy personnel are helping in the fight against the pandemic. Dozens of faculty members and even students are in the community battling the disease. Experts, including Professors Kerry LaPlante and Virginia Lemay have been working on the vaccine’s process from the lab to the pharmacy. Clinical Assistant Professor Todd Brothers is heading up the pharmacy at the Care New England Field Hospital in Cranston, where several other faculty members and students are working shifts.

“The greatest need right now is to get hospital workers vaccinated, and they’re turning to our students and their pharmacists and technicians,” Larrat said. “It’s a big job.”