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The role of nursing in vaccination and disease eradication

The role of nursing in vaccination and disease eradication

Nurse administering vaccine in patients arms

Vaccines are often considered to be one of the greatest achievements in public health. Infectious diseases that once wrought devastating illness, death, and chaos among smaller communities and entire countries, are now considered much more manageable. Keep reading to learn about nurses’ role in the fight against disease with vaccination and immunization, the history of the field and more.

History of vaccines

As with many pieces of medical history, the development of treating infectious diseases and vaccines dates back much earlier than you might expect. Some sources suggest that the practice of variolation– or intentionally exposing healthy people to smallpox to prevent illness– dates back as early as 200 BCE. The first record of a patient being inoculated against smallpox, however, didn’t happen until 1796 when physician Edward Jenner treated a smallpox-infected 8-year-old.1

Skipping forward through time as scientific gains were made in the field of immunization including treating rabies and diphtheria, the Spanish Flu pandemic hit in 1918 and in a year killed an estimated 20-50 million people worldwide. Finding a treatment became a military priority as 1 in 67 U.S. soldiers were killed by the virus. It wouldn’t be until 1945 that the first influenza vaccine was approved for military use (and for civilian use in 1946). By 1960 two polio vaccines were developed and Czechoslovakia became the first country in the world to eliminate the disease. In the years since, several vaccines have been developed like those for human papillomavirus (HPV), rotavirus, Ebola and COVID-19. There are currently vaccines available to help protect against more than 20 diseases.Child deaths have decreased by more than 50% in the last 30 years, a decline largely attributed to vaccines.1

Nurses’ essential role in vaccination efforts

These are facts that can’t be overstated: Nurses comprise the largest component of the healthcare workforce, are the primary providers of hospital patient care, and deliver most of the nation's long-term care.2 Nurses are also a key component of many community-based public health programs so it’s not a huge surprise that in 2012 one study found that more elderly and at-risk adults get their flu and pneumonia vaccinations when the shots are coordinated and given by nurses instead of doctors.3 While it’s not fully clear why, it makes sense that with all the contact and trust the public has with nurses, they would be credible advisors regarding and administrators of vaccines.4

What about when it comes to nurses themselves? The American Nurses Association (ANA) has a long standing policy supporting immunizations for nurses and patients of all ages. The ANA statement on vaccinations for nurses is that there’s a professional and ethical obligation for nurses to be immunized as “it protects both the health of the nurse, and the health of her or his patients and community.”

COVID-19 vaccination

The COVID-19 pandemic reinvigorated the public’s awareness of vaccines and their role in keeping communities safe. Once a vaccine was established, it was critical that at least 80% of the population became vaccinated within the first year of availability in order to maintain herd immunity.5 As a part of this effort nurses were tasked to demonstrate their far-reaching impact once again during the pandemic, in administering vaccines, educating the public, and driving awareness. In the report Nursing and its essential role in vaccination against COVID-19: New challenge in a pandemic scenario, one researcher argues nurses are to thank for the success of initial COVID-19 herd immunity:

“As has occurred with other vaccination plans and programs throughout the life cycle, primary and community care nurses are in charge of guaranteeing the manipulation, storage, and safe administration of the vaccines and have contributed to promoting the vaccination, helping to design and carry out efficient campaigns. Due to this, today they constitute a crucial factor for the success of mass vaccination programs against COVID-19.”6

Educating patients about vaccines

Nurses’ jobs often require them to be educators whether they’re working in schools, public health departments, community clinics, or hospitals. Nurses working with babies, infants and adolescents especially are frequently tasked with educating parents about keeping their children up-to-date with vaccinations and answering questions and addressing their concerns about the risks. It’s good to be prepared for these conversations with answers for common questions like “Are vaccines safe?” and “What are the side effects?” The American Nurses Association (ANA) also recommends nurses be familiar with the research and development processes for vaccines.7

In addition to the information nurses can provide verbally, all vaccine providers are required to provide something called a Vaccine Information Statement (VIS), which is produced by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), prior to administering a vaccination. VIS papers have information about the benefits and risks of the specific vaccine being provided. The CDC has extensive additional resources to help nurses and other medical providers prepare for these conversations as well as take-home materials for patients.8

Fighting vaccine myths

In addition to knowledge about vaccination, the COVID-19 pandemic also stirred up a wealth of mis- and disinformation (information that’s shared and is unknowingly false or inaccurate vs disinformation which is purposefully spread to intentionally mislead).9 One of the ways this cropped up was within Black and Indigenous communities where there is a long-standing, justified mistrust of medical institutions that historically brought about abuse and cruelty in experimentation or neglect from a lack of medical care options and support in general. This is another scenario where cultural competence and sensitivity can help nurses connect with patients and overcome obstacles to health.

Conversations over the internet and social media are also hotbeds of misinformation development. Nurses working in public health or other educational positions could make gains by sharing posts combating myths directly and also providing infographics from and links to reputable sources. Just educating people on what does and does not qualify as a reputable source can help them quite a bit.10

Become a vaccine champion and community health leader

Depending on your current nursing role, you might already have some experience with the administration of vaccines or educating your patients about immunization. When you enroll in one of the Kramer School of Nursing online nursing programs, you can dig even deeper. If you’re interested in really becoming a force for immunization and vaccination, consider earning your online Master of Science in Nursing (MSN) with a specialization in Community-Based Public Health. Talk to an Admissions Advisor for more information.

  1. Retrieved on April 24, 2023, from who.int/news-room/spotlight/history-of-vaccination/a-brief-history-of-vaccination
  2. Retrieved on April 25, 2023, from aacnnursing.org/news-Information/fact-sheets/nursing-fact-sheet
  3. Retrieved on April 25, 2023, from reuters.com/article/us-nurses-vaccination/nurses-can-help-improve-vaccination-rates-study-idUSBRE8AM0IK20121123
  4. Retrieved on April 25, 2023, from nursingworld.org/practice-policy/work-environment/health-safety/immunize/policy-advocacy/
  5. Anderson RM, Vegvari C, Truscott J, Collyer BJ. Challenges in creating herd immunity to SARS-CoV-2 infection by mass vaccination. Lancet. 2020;396(10263):1614–1616. Retrieved on April 25, 2023, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC7836302/
  6. Barría RM. Nursing and its essential role in vaccination against COVID-19: New challenge in a pandemic scenario. Invest. Educ. Enferm. 2021; 39(3):e01. Retrieved on April 25, 2023, from ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC8912169/
  7. Retrieved on April 26, 2023, from nursingworld.org/practice-policy/work-environment/health-safety/immunize/safetyresearch/
  8. Retrieved on April 26, 2023, from cdc.gov/vaccines/hcp/vis/about/facts-vis.html
  9. Retrieved on April 26, 2023, from apa.org/topics/journalism-facts/misinformation-disinformation
  10. Retrieved on April 26, 2023, from med.stanford.edu/news/all-news/2021/09/infodemic-covid-19.html

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