It is exciting that within a year of the first cases of SARs-CoV2 infection in the UK we have started a vaccination programme against COVID-19 disease. With the approval from the Medicines and Health Care Regulatory Agency (MHRA) of the Pfizer BioNTech vaccine and potential for other vaccines being approved later in the year, there is real optimism that vaccines will in time significantly impact the COVID-19 pandemic.
However, the end is still a long way off; we must continue to practice social distancing, wear face coverings, and follow the restrictions appropriate to the area we live. These measures, along with increased testing, will be needed for some time to come. COVID-19 cases and hospital admissions are still high and although falling in some parts of the country, are rising in others. Families will need to continue to be cautious over the Christmas period.
The COVID-19 vaccine programme will be an undertaking on a scale the like of which we have never seen before. Surveys on vaccine acceptance suggest that 70-80% of the population are likely to accept a vaccine but uptake may be lower among some groups. Ensuring the high uptake of two doses of vaccine needed to control this disease will require both a national communication strategy informing people about the programme, as well as information on the safety of the vaccine and more targeted messages that cater to the needs of local communities and individuals.
Vaccination in the UK is primarily a nursing role. As nursing staff in general practice and in many other settings deliver the majority of vaccines, they are crucial to the success of all vaccine programmes. The RCN has a new online resource about COVID-19 vaccines; this is designed to support members, and anyone involved in the delivery of the vaccines. It includes links to reputable information sources and relevant RCN positions on the UK COVID-19 vaccine programmes.
The resource is designed to:
- Ensure members have up-to-date evidence to enable them to protect those most vulnerable to the severe effects of infectious diseases where a safe and effective vaccine is available
- Support members in safely delivering vaccines and help them to maintain public trust and confidence in immunisation services by having access to useful resources and further information.
The RCN resource also includes a section on education and training to support delivery of large scale vaccination; this includes information about the education and training requirements and how to access them and has a specific RCN resource to support the supervision and leadership role which many nurses will be taking on. This is designed to support national training packages and defines the workforce roles, education and training requirements for staff to support these programmes. It helps clarify and define the legal principles of vaccine administration.
The NHS are already asking for people to sign up to help. This will include unregistered support staff to help vaccine delivery and expand the available workforce. In principle, the RCN welcomes this and sees it as necessary to help deliver such a significant vaccine programme while still maintaining and protecting wider health and social care services. However, it is imperative that people who are enlisted to support the programme have the appropriate training including a period of supervised practice, where their skills and competence can be assessed. All members of the vaccine delivery workforce will need ongoing supervision as the programme rolls out.
The RCN COVID-19 vaccination page will be updated as information becomes available.