The following column is the opinion and analysis of the writer:
The COVID-19 pandemic is one of the greatest challenges our country has ever faced: overwhelmed hospitals, distance schooling and business, stores and restaurants struggling to survive. But there is hope. We now have vaccines that can prevent the disease from spreading and save hundreds of thousands of lives here in the United States alone. The challenge before us is to ensure that a critical mass of people across the country receive COVID-19 vaccines, and that they are given promptly, safely and equitably to high-risk populations, including the most susceptible and vulnerable.
Since Dec. 14, 2020, when an intensive care nurse in New York became the first American to receive a COVID-19 vaccine injection, 24 million vaccine doses have been shipped from Pfizer-BioNTech and Moderna. These vaccines provide a significant hope for closure to the pandemic that has claimed nearly 2 million lives worldwide, including more than 380,000 Americans — by far the largest toll of any nation. Of these 24 million doses, only 5 million have been administered to less than 2% of the U.S. population.
The Biden administration’s objective is to vaccinate more than 100 million people within the first 100 days of taking office. We have until May 1 to accomplish this task, which means that vaccines must be both available in communities and administered. Unfortunately, we are already behind. The reasons for this delay include not only issues such as vaccine and storage availability, inadequate planning and communication about vaccination opportunities, but also lack of trained staff to administer vaccines. We offer here a solution to this last challenge: nurses.
The 1947 smallpox epidemic in New York and the 2009 H1N1 pandemic both saw mass vaccination responses in which public-health nurses played pivotal roles, implementing clinics and optimizing planning and operations. Nurses can do this again.
All nurses are licensed to give shots. Public-health nurses are broadly trained and have a proven track record in the planning and implementation of immunization campaign. Nurse educators in schools of nursing across the country train students to administer injections; their students welcome the opportunity to practice their skills. Retired nurses have a wealth of experience and expertise to offer. With minimal just-in-time training necessary about the guidelines for managing COVID-19 vaccine distribution, they can be quickly mobilized to achieve the new president’s goal.
Nurses are well-equipped to follow established guidelines on vaccine distribution, to organize the immunization registry process, to assist in the coordination and set-up of administration facilities, to address recipients’ questions and concerns, to educate the public and to give the injections. Moreover, public-health nurses partner actively with neighborhoods and across community, professional and geographic boundaries to reach our nation’s vulnerable populations. As the most trusted profession, nurses can communicate effectively and advocate for mass vaccination to allow us to reach the goal locally and regionally, and move closer to assuring 100 million Americans vaccinated by May 1.
Political and health leaders in our community must reach out to nurses who will answer the call to action and help our nation meet the vaccination goal. This can be achieved by actively working with state nurse licensing boards to reach all licensed nurses in urban, suburban and rural jurisdictions across America. Nurses who are not currently employed could be deployed to assist with COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Nurses can be easily identified and registered with state volunteer emergency personnel registries. These registries offer civil immunity and the opportunity for health-care professionals to provide an alternative health-care option, separate and apart from traditional health-care organizations. Nurses can get those vaccines out of freezers and into arms!
Patricia J. Kelly is a retired nurse, researcher, educator and activist.