Most states wisely included nurses and other front-line medical professionals in their first waves of Covid-vaccines, knowing they were among the most in-danger and at-risk. After all, more than 3,000 health care workers were confirmed to have died from Covid by December of 2020. But worry remains, from rumors about side effects to concerns about how long the vaccine will protect nurses, since the pandemic seems a long way from being completely suppressed.
How Effective is the COVID-19 Vaccine?
The question of “how effective is the COVID-19 vaccine” is a reasonable one to ask. The vaccines on the market had a very short testing period, and not enough time has passed to find out how effective the vaccine really is. Even the CDC admits that there is a large amount that is not known about how well the vaccine is working and preventing the spread of the coronavirus. However, a study from the Sheba Medical Centre in Israel found that a single dose of the Pfizer vaccine is up to 85% effective. The positive rate of infection among staff showed an almost 50% drop two weeks after the first dose, and the infection rate halved again in the 15 to 28-day period after the first dose. Early COVID vaccine effectiveness data shows that the vaccination works as it should.
The CDC recommends the COVID vaccine for nurses due to the fact they are in a position to spread the virus amongst the hospital staff and patients. The vaccine has been shown to reduce the spread among patients and unvaccinated staff alike. It’s true that the variants of COVID-19 are beginning to show up at an alarming rate, but the current vaccines do have some efficacy against the variants. Healthcare staff who get vaccinated with either Pfizer or AstraZeneca vaccines can be confident that their risk of infection is low as is their ability to spread the virus further.
How Long Does the COVID Vaccine Last?
As it currently stands, no one in the healthcare science fields can state how long the vaccine is effective for with any certainty. The vaccine is simply too new and not enough time has passed to determine the long-term efficacy of the vaccine. Nurses are highly advised to take advantage of a vaccine offering as soon as they are notified in order to help build their own immunity and add to the goal of herd immunity.
How Can Nurses Stay Safe Even After a Vaccine?
It has been a challenge for nurses to stay safe during the initial outbreak and subsequent surges of the virus. Nursing home staff were the major source of the spread of COVID-19 in long-term health care facilities due to their mobile nature. Many employees who work in the long-term healthcare industry tend to hold down positions in more than one facility. In turn, the nursing staff unwittingly spread the coronavirus from facility to facility as they moved around their jobs.
Nurses in hospitals faced a similar issue of unknowingly becoming virus spreaders, although their spread was more limited due to their working at a single facility. This is still an ongoing issue, and is one that mirrors the hospital-based spread of MRSA and C. diff. The implication for nursing staff is the fact they still have to wear PPE while treating patients even after getting vaccinated.
The initial dose of the vaccine takes at least two weeks to take full effect. Nurses still have to wear masks and PPE garments to protect themselves and others against infection, and should still wear a mask whenever they’re out in the public on their own time. The same is true even after the second dose. The fact is, there is still a lot that science does not know about the coronavirus, variants are starting to show up and may be more potent than the original COVID-19 virus, and a nurse can never be too careful with their own healthcare.
What Does the Future of Nursing Look Like After COVID-19 Vaccinations?
Nurses can expect to be wearing PPE during their shifts for the foreseeable future. It may be years before the virus is controlled to a point where the risk of transmission is low or nonexistent. Mask wearing is most likely to become a norm instead of an exception in many healthcare settings as they have shown to be highly effective in minimizing transmission of the coronavirus and many other airborne viruses and bacteria. The healthcare industry has always used PPE to an extent, but only in extreme settings or where it was a necessity. The use of full-body PPE may adapt over time and healthcare professionals wind up using less, but nurses can expect to use masks and gloves even after the COVID-19 emergency has passed.
What is known is that the COVID-19 pandemic has created changes in the healthcare industry that may become the new norm. What is unknown is which changes are here to stay and which ones will disappear due to impracticality or their relation to the needs of the pandemic. The role of being a nurse will always be one of providing care to patients in need, but it may be done differently in the years to come.