Pharmacy Technician Overcomes Initial Jitters to Confidently Immunize Patients Against COVID-19

Pharmacy technician Amanda Hittle on her first day administering COVID-19 vaccines outdoors at the Arvest Bank headquarters in Lowell, Arkansas.

Pharmacy technician Amanda Hittle on her first day administering COVID-19 vaccines outdoors at the Arvest Bank headquarters in Lowell, Arkansas.

The first vaccine that Amanda Hittle, CPhT, ever administered was for COVID-19. The pharmacy technician at Community Pharmacy in Springdale, Arkansas, became a trained immunizer once COVID-19 vaccines became available. During her short tenure as an immunizer, she has overcome her initial jitters and learned to confidently handle some medically complex patients.

“I was excited as a pharmacy technician that I was able to participate in getting everyone vaccinated,” said Hittle.

In response to the need for trained immunizers during the COVID-19 vaccine rollout, the U.S. Department of Health issued a guidance under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness Act temporarily authorizing trained pharmacy technicians nationwide to administer certain vaccines under the supervision of a qualified pharmacist.

Over the last 18 months, Hittle has had a hand in some 30,000 vaccines administered at Community Pharmacy and the many off-site COVID-19 vaccine clinics it hosted. Hittle has administered vaccines in-house at the pharmacy as well as community centers, a local church, and the Tyson chicken plants. When she’s not administering vaccines, she performs patient intake, billing, or other vaccine-related administrative tasks.

Hittle’s most memorable patient is one that other newly minted immunizers might be too nervous to handle: a nonverbal, young woman with cerebral palsy.

The patient’s caregiver appeared nervous for the young woman to receive the vaccine. Among the caregiver’s numerous questions were those about the safety of the vaccine for people with cerebral palsy, each of which the pharmacy team answered.

Once all of the caregiver’s questions were addressed, she offered a warning. “She said, ‘When you stick her, she’s probably going to jump,’ and I thought, ‘Oh my god,’ because my biggest concern was that I didn’t want to hurt people, and [the caregiver] was telling me that the patient was probably going to jump,” Hittle recalled.

But Hittle was undaunted. Although the patient couldn’t respond verbally, Hittle spoke to her as she would any patient. As an immunizer, she explained what she was going to do and waited for some sort of acknowledgment from the patient.

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“Just because she doesn’t speak doesn’t mean she can’t understand,” Hittle said.

When Hittle administered the vaccine, the patient didn’t jump or flinch at all. She giggled. The caregiver, who was so concerned that the shot would be traumatic for the patient, was relieved.

“I was so glad that I was able to make them both feel comfortable,” Hittle said.

Now, Hittle has confidence when hesitant or frightened patients come her way.

“When people tell me they’re scared, rather than tell them, ‘Don’t be scared,’ I tell them that I understand and that their concerns are valid. Tell me what your concerns are, let’s address them, and then see how you feel after that. I don’t want you to get the vaccine and leave the pharmacy still scared. If you do, then I haven’t done my job,” said Hittle.

Resources to Answer Common Questions about COVID-19 vaccine and to Know What Drives Vaccine Confidence are available at APhA’s Vaccine Confident microsite.