As a Cardiac Clinical Nurse Specialist and Family Nurse Practitioner I’ve been heavily involved in the COVID-19 pandemic both on the frontlines and in the media. In addition to my day-to-day job as an emergency nurse I’m also a medical correspondent for NBC. And, as such, I regularly receive updates from many pharmaceutical companies about vaccines and therapeutic developments to combat COVID-19.
To better prepare myself for nationally televised interviews regarding COVID, I’ve spent hours researching the virus, adhering to CDC guidelines, checking public health reports, and speaking to emergency and critical care providers about the status of the pandemic in their areas. I also care for COVID patients on a daily basis.
Back in the early days of the pandemic, when many were still dismissing the disease, I was one of the first health professionals to comment on national TV about COVID. As a nurse, I knew from the beginning that it wasn’t anything to be taken lightly. Since then I’ve been featured on many locally and nationally televised segments about the virus – from how to prevent the spread, to covering new treatments, to discussing President Trump’s infection on national TV.
Most recently, I worked with Johnson and Johnson and was interviewed by CNN Reporter, Lisa Ling on their digital show, “A Road to A Vaccine,” where I talk about my experience working directly with COVID-19 patients, discuss vaccine hesitancy especially amongst communities of color, and what I know about coronavirus treatments and therapies.
The Rush For a Vaccine
With nearly 11 million cases of Covid-19 infections and over 245,000 deaths in the United States, it’s been a race for scientists to find a treatment to halt the mass devastation.
Under normal circumstances, vaccines go through years of testing and research before ever even being introduced to the public. But, the Coronavirus pandemic certainly isn’t a “normal” circumstance and it has scientists racing to quickly produce a vaccine that is both effective and safe.
On November 9, 2020 Pfizer and BioNTech announced that their “vaccine candidate was found to be more than 90% effective in preventing COVID-19 in participants without evidence of prior SARS-CoV-2 infection in the first interim efficacy analysis.” And, just yesterday, Moderna announced that it’s COVID-19 vaccine has an efficacy of 94.5%.
And while we are still far from a cure, we are well on the road to a vaccine.
Frontline Workers Will Have First Access
The CDC, other health organizations and scientists are recommending that front line healthcare workers have first access first to the vaccine due to their high risk for exposure. Next, they recommend it to high risk patients. Lastly, it would be available for the public to access.
One of the main concerns at this time, even if scientists are successful at developing a vaccine is, “will people get the vaccine once it’s available?” An NBC News study found that less than 50% of Americans say they will actually get the immunization – this will limit the vaccine’s effectiveness.
There is a lot of uncertainty among healthcare workers as to the perceived safety of “Operation Warp Speed” and whether they themselves want to take the vaccine. Therefore, I suspect that the percentage of nurses who will take the vaccine are even lower. Nurse.org recently asked our online nursing community if they would take a COVID vaccine and the overwhelming majority of nurses said no they would not. Myself included.
There’s A Lot of Unknowns
It is still unknown what the length of immunity will be with the COVID-19 vaccine. Immunity length will be a big factor in determining the success of any vaccine. It’s hoped that it can provide at minimum the same length of immunity that the flu vaccine provides – and less than 50% of Americans received the flu vaccine last year.
And, while the COVID vaccine trials are speeding along, there’s still a lot that we don’t know – here’s what we do know,
- These vaccines may potentially prevent infection but, at this time, they cannot cure the disease.
- Scientists are still unsure if the vaccine will aid at preventing transmission of the disease.
- Scientists hope that by preventing active infection the symptoms and severity of illness will be reduced and will also decrease the potential for transmission through the spread of droplets by coughing or sneezing.
At this point there still isn’t a definitive plan on how the massive roll out will occur and whether pharmaceutical companies will even be able to produce enough doses.
As we wait for the FDA to approve a vaccine, it’s important to do your own unbiased, extensive research on vaccine development and encourage your patients to do the same.
By Alice Benjamin, APRN, MSN, ACNS-BC, FNP