It’s undeniable to say life has changed in the past few years, and the same is true of working in a pharmacy. I’ve been a pharmacy technician at Walmart for 5 years, certified for 3. I thought I had it all down three years ago, being freshly certified and ready to take on the world. My store was slow, but I’d only ever worked there, so slow was relative. We had regulars we cared about, and who cared about us, who knew aspects of our personal lives and had seen pictures of our kids. I spent my days inputting, filling and cashing out prescriptions, interacting with the patients and hearing their stories. It was similar to the other retail jobs I’ve had, just more private due to HIPPA laws.
In the last week of February 2020, the week started normal. We started hearing patients talk about a disease in China, but there wasn’t much concern at first. Just a few mentions here and there, and articles popping up when we opened the news. Then Italy was shut down. Everyone got a little more nervous, we started looking for news, reading up. We’re on the front lines after all. We may not get the severity of an emergency room, but over time I’ve realized we come in contact with more early contagious people than most other professions. Those with a nagging cough or sneeze that just want a little relief.
Us full time technicians started wearing masks. My coworkers’ dad bought a big pack of N95’s for his moving company and brought her in enough for everyone. Come March, New York was shut down and everything changed. Now I wasn’t just filling and putting in prescriptions, cashing them out at the register; I was delivering them to people in their cars, mailing them, taking payments over the phone or just waiving them if we couldn’t manage it. My coworker had a car, and they assigned her as a driver to deliver prescriptions to patients’ houses. This was a whole new world for us, and adjusting was difficult.
Not all people are the most patient when they need their medication, and we had plenty of complaints. Then there’s the company expectations, we’d just gone through extensive training on good patient care. The higher ups don’t want that wasted, so we’re doing everything with a smile. We were scared, bundled up with masks and gloves, and armed with hand sanitizer and alcohol, but we did our jobs. The patient’s well-being always came first and we worked hard to protect our patients.
After a while, we started facing shortages, things you’d expect and otherwise. Certain vitamins, zinc, elderberry, sambuccal, masks and gloves, pulse oximeters. Prescription drugs started going on back order at an alarming pace. We saw a surge of hydroxychloroquine and filled a few before we found out why it was being prescribed so often. People started improvising everything, masks, gloves, hand sanitizer. We got a million questions a day on how to protect yourself from this new illness. Other than the basics, we had nothing to tell them.
Months of this new world later, the breakthrough; a vaccine! A light at the end! Maybe we can go back to normal now, the world thought collectively. For pharmacy, a new vaccine meant work was going to pick up again. After seeing a pharmacy in flu season, I thought I knew what we’d be in for, until they told certified technicians that we could train to vaccinate. We had an opportunity to really fight this invisible enemy, and with the approval for one vaccine, there was no reason a tech couldn’t be approved to do other vaccines in the future.
Pharmacy was changing around me. I spent a day with my coworker at our training store, practicing on an orange and then each other with saline. We took a CPR course to go with, and then we waited. The vaccine wasn’t in Walmart for a few weeks to start, at least not in New York. We got questions every day on when it would be available. I’ve never witnessed anything more highly sought after than a covid vaccine.
First we received Pfizer, and Jen, my fellow immunizing technician, and I gave each other our first shots. We were only allowed to schedule 6 appointments a day and people were mad. We hadn’t known what to tell everyone except when we were expecting the vaccine, and when we got it, we weren’t allowed to waste a drop. We handled the irate customers for weeks until we opened up to the J&J and Moderna shots. We stopped receiving Pfizer and life seemed easier again. One of my pharmacists revealed she was expecting her second child, and then Jen and I were handling all the Covid vaccines on her shifts. It was a new world for us, not only reminding people to get this lifesaving concoction, but administering it ourselves!
We weren’t very busy at first as the state tested our outreach, until the day Walmart allowed us to “help the customer no matter what!” And administer a covid vaccine, no matter the waste, without an appointment. Now let me tell you, we wasted a LOT of vaccine. But getting people to get that first shot and be somewhat protected was the goal. I’m proud to say I honed my craft in vaccinations during the pandemic.
Now, certified immunizing technicians have been approved to administer the flu vaccine. Another door has opened. I’ve stepped into this and tasted success, and I’m ready to see what I, and other technicians like me, are really capable of.
By: Savannah Dunning