A February 2021 report from the Joint Commission showed that fear of getting sick and bringing the virus home remain top concerns for nurses, and the near-constant strain on these professionals is driving moral injury and burnout, resulting in nurses leaving the profession.
A light at the end of the tunnel has appeared: the Covid-19 vaccines. While promising in the long-term, the rollout has been riddled with challenges and it will take time for overworked nurses to feel the impact of the vaccinations. As healthcare professionals and nurses are vaccinated, the immediate concern of contracting illness is mediated but millions of Americans need to be vaccinated to reduce hospitalizations and get the pandemic under control.
Vaccinating more people will require more vaccinators—however, with most nursing staff focused on in-patient Covid patients, the number of trained professionals to vaccinate the public is far short. To support this need, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) issued an amendment to the Public Readiness and Emergency Preparedness (PREP) Act, allowing nursing students and retired nurses to join the vaccine distribution and administration efforts.
Enlisting former and future nursing professionals in vaccine administering
Bringing in well-trained nursing students and retirees can greatly support strained healthcare staff as the U.S. aims to deliver 11 million vaccines weekly, and in maintaining this pace over the coming months to vaccinate as many Americans as possible.
Many retired nurses have had long careers in healthcare and nursing students have gained initial skills in school and training programs. Essential nursing skillsets such as relation-based care, critical thinking, clinical judgement, and patient advocacy are key when working with the general public in a high-stress environment such as mass vaccination distribution. Retired nurses can tap into this experience and nursing students can begin to hone their skills under the guidance of seasoned professionals.
Relieving pressure to prevent burnout in nurses
One of the biggest efforts they and other essential vaccination staff can provide is removing the pressure from frontline staff. With additional team members and a freshly trained vaccination workforce, nurses and healthcare workers can focus on existing patients in need of medical treatment and nursing care. Without trained support, adequate staffing, and a safe work environment, mental health challenges including moral injury and post-traumatic stress will only continue to rise, with the concern many nurses will leave the profession entirely.
This is especially concerning as evidence continues to support prolonged symptoms in Covid patients lasting for months on end; not to forget that long-haul symptoms plague three to four percent of healthcare workers who have been infected with Covid. A full staff of nurses and healthcare professionals will be needed long after the pandemic recedes—by relieving the burden of vaccinating the public, retired and student nurses can help ensure a full workforce will be able to continue serving hospital patients.
Thorough vaccine training is essential to success
The HHS amendment paves the way for essential support on the front lines and the Center for Disease Control and Prevention has implemented a Covid-19 Vaccine Training program, but if these initiatives are not executed properly, the country could fail to support nurses and the pandemic could continue. The additional support nurses and others administering the vaccine must be trained adequately and thoroughly so nurses have the assurance and confidence they are working alongside skilled colleagues.
Beyond the technical elements of vaccine delivery, nurses must have the training to complete the entire interaction with the patient from assessing for contraindications, administering the vaccine, and educating the patient on side effects as well as the importance of coming back for the second vaccine if needed.
The Covid-19 vaccine administration can be an incredible turning point in offering additional support for the frontline workforce—if not executed correctly, it could add additional and unnecessary stress to a field already experiencing widespread burnout and moral distress. By adequately training previous and future nurses, the current workforce can be spared additional pressure and recover enough to want to stay in their profession beyond the pandemic.