In my second semester of pharmacy school, I learned how to prepare and administer vaccines. I had no idea then how important vaccines would become to me in my career. By the time I finished my post-graduate pharmacy residency nearly three years later, I taught immunization courses to pharmacists and technicians and led our hospital’s immunization clinic. I am passionate about access to care, especially when it comes to preventing illness.
Pharmacies are accessible places for patients to get information about medications and get up-to-date on their vaccines. Our pharmacy technicians are critical in this role. They frequently assist pharmacists in managing supply and preparing medications in inpatient and outpatient settings. Many are also nationally certified and take extra coursework after high school to become more skilled technicians.
At the Phoenix Indian Medical Center, one of our pharmacy technicians assigned to immunizations is practically my right hand. Vanessa Leyvas assists with managing $1.6 million of vaccine inventory, and helps with refrigerator maintenance and monitoring temperature logs. Between July 2020 and September 2021, she administered nearly 1,000 vaccines, which was more than anyone else in our pharmacy. Amendments to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act enabled pharmacy technicians to administer vaccines nationally. However, some states had already authorized this activity.
Lt. Abigail Petrulis, clinical pharmacist/immunization director, Phoenix Indian Medical Center, and Vanessa Leyvas, immunization pharmacy technician, Phoenix Indian Medical Center, preparing COVID-19 vaccines.
PIMC’s COVID-19 vaccine clinic has administered over 40,000 doses in the last ten months and operates more than 40 hours per week. Because of the volume and demand for vaccinations, many different staff members from across PIMC have rotated through the clinic. Vanessa is the lead immunization technician and fully trained. Together, we have trained more than 50 pharmacists, nurses, and medical assistants in vaccine administration and management. Training includes assisting the vaccination clinic with everything from storage and handling, to vaccine reconstitution, to proper injection techniques. Vanessa is also highly trained in vaccine management, including storage and handling. She helped make PIMC, the IHS Phoenix Area’s hub redistribution site, efficient and successful.
At our peak, we were administering more than 640 vaccines per day with eight immunizing stations. At PIMC, we run the vaccine clinic, staffed by seven well-trained immunizing technicians, with one pharmacist providing clinical and administrative oversight! We also answer questions and review screening sheets to check for medical conditions a patient may have that would cause us not to recommend medication.
I highly encourage every pharmacy across the country to train pharmacy technicians in immunization administration and overall vaccine program management. In short – celebrate American Pharmacists Month!
Learn more about IHS pharmacy job opportunities.