Industry Voices—Increased vaccine supply is a crucial step in eliminating the burden on nurses

Vaccine distribution has dominated headlines since the new year—and rightfully so. We are now closer than ever to seeing the end of this pandemic. Much-needed relief for our nation’s hospital workers—especially nurses—is finally in sight, but we must be careful not to underestimate the amount of effort still needed to deliver hundreds of millions of vaccines over the next few months.

We’re now attempting to deliver 13.5 million vaccines every week and need to keep this pace up over the coming months to vaccinate as many Americans as possible. Vaccination is being addressed differently depending on what state you live in, and even what county—but across the board distribution is not going as seamlessly as many had hoped.

As vaccination efforts ramp up and inevitably evolve, nurses and other healthcare providers will require thoughtful support to combat burnout that has been building for over a year.

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Expanding teams for vaccine delivery

On Jan. 28,  the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an amendment to the Declaration under the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, allowing nursing students and retired nurses, among other qualified cohorts, to support vaccine distribution efforts. This is a step in the right direction—our nurses need more support.

While the HHS amendment paves the way for essential support on the front lines, if it is not executed properly, we risk failing our nation’s resilient nurses. As part of training newly activated nurses to tactically administer COVID-19 vaccines, we must not forget other aspects of care that make up a complete patient encounter. This includes conducting pre-vaccine screening for contraindications, educating patients on potential side effects and instructing them to come back for a second vaccine if needed. Our nurses need to know that the staff working alongside them have been properly trained for all aspects of the job and are competent and confident in the care they are delivering to patients—particularly as more vaccine options become available.

Increasing vaccine supply

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine was just authorized by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency use. According to a statement, Johnson & Johnson will deliver more than 10 million doses to the U.S. in March, with the expectation to reach 100 million doses in the first half of 2021.  

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Following vaccine shortages that have plagued our country since COVID-19 vaccines were first introduced, this is welcome news. While an increase in vaccine supply will take some of the burden off nurses and care coordinators who are triaging who is eligible to receive the vaccines and when, it also adds a layer of patient education that needs to be completed at the point of care.

While the Johnson & Johnson single-dose vaccine is a huge leap in the right direction for treating the American people, we need to stay mindful of who will be delivering these 100 million doses and ensure they’re fully prepared for all aspects of the job.

A break in burnout

Dare I say, there is hope. With additional vaccines approved for emergency use and more aggressive rollout plans, we are nearing the other side. This news doesn’t bring more relief to anyone than our front-line nurses, who have experienced unprecedented rates of burnout and moral distress. Shots in the arm will decrease the incidence of COVID-19 and hospital admissions, which will give nurses a break from the moral injury and burnout we are seeing with caring for COVID-19 patients.

As nurses and other clinicians continue to fight this invisible demon in hospitals and ICUs, it is now our collective responsibility to make sure these heroic men and women have all the support and training they need to complete a final push to vaccinate our communities.

Anne Dabrow Woods is the chief nurse of health, learning, research and practice, a division of Wolters Kluwer. She is also a critical care nurse practitioner at Penn Medicine, Chester County Hospital, and is adjunct faculty for Drexel University, College of Nursing and Health Professions.