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Nurses must lead to ensure Covid vaccines are accepted in care homes

George Coxon, author.

We need to ensure acceptance of the vaccine and that comes down to leadership, in my view

Despite care home residents and staff being described as the number one priority for receiving the coronavirus vaccination many are still waiting.

As I write this [4 January] I am about to get my second Pfizer/BioNtech jab. I was lucky enough to have been in the right place at the right time on the 17 December when our local PCN vaccinating hub had leftovers because a number of booked patients failed to turn up.  Without hesitation a handful of us hot-footed it to take advantage.  

I made it my pre-new year mission to afford the same luxury to all of our residents at one of my small care homes, to get them vaccinated too. I’m pleased to report we achieved this on New Year’s Eve.  But we know we are not able to relax for a while yet as roll out is slow and cases of Covid-19 in care homes are rising again.  

There are also the debates raging over the vaccines that could damage confidence in them.

There are comparisons being made with the now fully signed off Astra Zeneca / Oxford vaccine – being rolled as I write this – and the Pfizer/BioNtech jab.

The huge debate about delays to getting the second follow up injection will run and run. The UK government has said it wants to give a single dose of Covid vaccine to as many members of priority groups as possible. This means everyone should get a second dose within 12 weeks, which is longer than the gap of three weeks as originally recommended.

Scientific advisors to the World Health Organization have been lukewarm to this. They say they understand why the UK has gone down this road but do not recommend other countries follow this approach.

I want to trust the wisdom and judgement of those that know best or at least that know better than me.  But it is hard when there is so much divided opinion.    

The vaccination is but one of the areas that has caused huge disparity of opinion and divided the country in recent years – other issues being Brexit, the Scottish referendum, the 2019 general election and now the pandemic wisdom.

I was recently invited by Dr Nikki Kanani, clinical director of primary care at NHS England, to participate in a vaccination promotional series of interviews where Professor Jonathan Van Tam, the government’s deputy chief medical officer, answered a set of scripted questions. His purpose was to provide clarity and reassurance to us all the vaccine rollout plan was safe.  Sadly, there wasn’t a question about deviating from the evidence in delaying the second dose. 

But we must simply trust in the assumption that first jabs will protect more people and hope there is capacity to provide 14 million vaccinations by mid-February.

Ultimately it does come down to a combination of instinct and that word trust. There are still reports of figures in the 40 percentages of people reluctant to get the vaccination.  We do need to ensure greater uptake and confidence and this must come from those we have most faith in.  So who is that at the moment?  I would like you to pause for a moment and reflect – who do you believe in and trust right now? I believe we need to put our faith in the government’s medical and scientific advisers.

We need to ensure acceptance of the vaccine and that comes down to leadership, in my view.  The primary reason I leapt into action when we had the call on the 17 December was to lead by example. I also did this by getting my first flu jab in November for over 20 years. This is also why I volunteered to be a subject in the global ‘BCG vaccination to reduce the impact of Covid-19 in healthcare workers’ (BRACE) trial last year. The study was determining whether the BCG inoculation might boost our immune system against Covid-19.  

Decisive, strong leadership that supplies confidence was in short supply for the most part of 2020. We all must step up in 2021 and be the leaders we as nurses must be. Whether in giving or receiving the vaccine, or in how we face the ongoing challenge of the battle with the virus. 

We are all in a race. The race is to get the injection or infection – and we all know which race we want to win.