With all eyes on the COVID-19 pandemic, vaccine delivery and uptake are now centre stage. Yet, the voices of specialist nurses are rarely heard: the media turns to doctors, virologists and epidemiologists for insights on the disease and its prevention.
Meanwhile, in close patient contacts, nurses have played key roles but could do more if they were given the support and training required. And their experience and ideas could help shape policy on vaccination and infection control. All of this requires us to listen to nurses. Nurses are ready but health systems seem not to have reached this point.
To help bring nurses’ voices to the fore, the European Specialist Nurses Organisation (ESNO) surveyed nurses’ attitudes to vaccination in December 2020 just as the first COVID-19 vaccines were set to be approved. Our findings, published during European Immunization Week 2021, reveal a strong willingness to be vaccinated, as well as a desire for education and involvement in local vaccine delivery programmes.
The study also found that most respondents were nurses with more than 20 years’ experience, suggesting that training is needed not only for the new generation of novice nurses but also for their established mid-career colleagues.
A thirst for knowledge and responsibility
Specialist nurses are interested in vaccines and vaccination. However, there is a need for better postgraduate education on microbiology, infection control and vaccination. In the absence of freely available educational resources, the alternative is to turn to Google. Continuing professional development would be a wise investment given the role of experienced specialist nurses as mentors within health systems.
With the facilitated additional education, specialist nurses can also play a more integrated interdisciplinary position not only in COVID-19 vaccination programmes and projects, but also in other routine immunisation campaigns and annual flu vaccine drives.
The results of the survey should prompt policy changes at national and European level to give specialist nurses the recognition mature health systems deserve along with support for career development and postgraduate education.
For its part, ESNO has now published a second edition of our vaccines guide which aims to provide nurses with core information on infectious diseases and their prevention. This will be supported by a webinar during European Immunization Week, followed by another event in International Nursing Week 10-14 May 2021.
Ultimately, we hope the lessons learned from the pandemic will include the priceless role that specialist nurses can play in responding to crises, but also in preventing outbreaks and delivering preventative measures such as vaccination. Specialist nurses are ready to do more with the right provided support.
Ber Oomen is Senior Advisor of ESNO