Collaborating in the new year to address pandemic challenges together
As nurses contend with the pandemic and its multi-layered effects into 2021, the American Nurses Association (ANA) continues to advocate relentlessly for critical measures to address the needs of nurses and communities, from sufficient personal protective equipment (PPE) to vaccine-related information, and to provide educational resources to support RNs’ physical and mental health.
The race for safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines has advanced at a record pace. At press time, Moderna, Inc. and Pfizer were seeking emergency use authorization from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for their vaccines. Once vaccines are approved, critical members of the nation’s nursing workforce will likely be among those receiving priority access. Nurses also will play a critical role in educating the public about the vaccines, as well as administering them.
“All nurses and healthcare professionals must receive consistent information and ongoing education from their employers, credible public health agencies, the Food and Drug Administration, and other trusted sources about COVID-19 vaccine trials and approval processes,” said ANA President Ernest Grant, PhD, RN, FAAN. “This is non-negotiable and imperative for nurses to help educate the public.”
To assist nurses in understanding issues surrounding vaccine development and distribution, the ANA Center for Ethics and Human Rights released Guiding Principles for Nurses and the COVID-19 Vaccines, which outlines the importance of access, transparency, equity, efficacy, and safety.
In addition, ANA is offering an on-demand webinar on COVID-19 vaccine development. More than 14,000 nurses have registered for this educational activity, which is aimed at helping them understand more about these vaccines—their potential safety and efficacy and other information related to ensuring the health and well-being of nurses and patients.
Grant recently participated in a COVID-19 vaccine phase III clinical trial at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC), motivated in part because the virus has been disproportionately affecting communities of color.
“There’s a need for more minority participation in clinical studies like this because COVID-19 is mostly affecting black and brown populations,” Grant said in an interview with UNC Healthcare. “We need to gather enough evidence of whether this vaccine will help in these populations. And if the vaccine is approved, people of color will be more inclined to try it if they know people who look like them participated safely in the trial.”
As the new year brings a new administration and Congress, ANA persists with advocacy for clear, evidence-based guidelines on COVID-19 and resources, including PPE, to protect nurses, other healthcare workers, first responders, and the public. Much of ANA’s advocacy has centered on issues raised by nurses who responded to several national, online surveys in the series conducted by ANA and the American Nurses Foundation. In the first survey, completed in the spring of 2020, 32,000-plus nurse participants revealed their top three concerns: a shortage of PPE, preparedness, including understanding their facility’s response plan, and potentially contaminating their families. Two other surveys on PPE showed ongoing concerns, including the reuse of N-95 respirators and other single-use PPE; results from a new survey weren’t available at press time. The survey findings are used to inform activities and to amplify nurses’ voices in the media and on Capitol Hill.
When safe and effective COVID-19 vaccines are made available, ANA has strongly recommended nurses are prioritized to be vaccinated according to recommendations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices and the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology. ANA believes that nurses should not be retaliated against if they choose not to be immunized.
On a related front, ANA has called on the Biden-Harris transition team to name additional nurses to its COVID-19 task force and communicated its top priorities to the incoming administration, including the urgent need to increase the PPE supply, ensure access to COVID-19 vaccinations, and address healthcare disparities.
In November 2020, Mary Wakefield, PhD, RN, was named a member of the Biden-Harris Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) transition team. Wakefield, a North Dakota Nurses Association member, served as HHS acting deputy secretary in the Obama administration.
In ANA President Grant’s letter congratulating President-elect Biden and Vice President-elect Harris, and outlining ANA’s COVID-19 priorities, he said, “In addition to our COVID-19 work outlined below, ANA has been a proud supporter of the Affordable Care Act, as well as many other healthcare issues of importance to your Administration. ANA stands ready to work with the Biden Administration to tackle the healthcare issues facing our nation, including the COVID-19 pandemic, addressing social determinants of health, racial disparities, as well as rebuilding our nation’s public health infrastructure.”
Additionally, ANA has developed a comprehensive “100 Day Advocacy Plan” and continues to monitor federal legislative and regulatory developments regarding COVID-19 while providing vital information to Congress, the administration, and regulatory agencies on the impact of the pandemic on nursing. Also, the association continues to collaborate with constituent and state nurses associations (C/SNAs) to further address their needs, particularly as hot spots emerge.
Collaboration, education, and mental health
ANA has been working closely with the American Medical Association and the American Hospital Association on a range of advocacy efforts, including asking Congress and federal officials to address PPE concerns, other preventive measures, and vaccine-related issues. The groups have collaborated to create public service announcements on the importance of adhering to public health measures, such as mask wearing, to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Beyond vaccine-related education, ANA offers on-demand webinars and quick videos addressing topics such as COVID-19 disease progression and nursing interventions, racial disparities, and the use and reuse of PPE. ANA’s webinars are on pace to reach more than 200,000 nurses who have registered for close to half a million webinar sessions. ANA has joined with the CDC and other partner organizations on Project Firstline, which is focused on infection control and prevention training (See story, #WeAreFirstline). The training strengthens healthcare workers’ knowledge and awareness to prevent the spread of infectious diseases.
Informed by findings from its Pulse on the Nation’s Nurses Survey Series, the Foundation developed resources to address the short- and long-term needs of nurses’ mental health through The Well-being Initiative. Partnering with ANA organizational affiliates the American Association of Critical-Care Nurses, the Association of periOperative Registered Nurses, the American Psychiatric Nurses Association, and the Emergency Nurses Association, this effort includes virtual support systems and a digital toolkit to help nurses build resilience, manage stress, and overcome COVID-19–related trauma.
“Nurses are putting their physical and mental health on the line to protect us all during this pandemic,” said Kate Judge, executive director, American Nurses Foundation. “Nurses are always there for us and we owe it to them to support their well-being during this crisis and in the future.”
In related work, ANA launched a nurse suicide and prevention resource. Research indicates that nurses are at a much higher risk of suicide than the general public. Developed by an ANA Enterprise Healthy Nurse, Healthy Nation™ committee co-chaired by Judy Davidson, DNP, RN, MCCM, FAAN, and Bernadette Melnyk, PhD, APRN-CNP, FAAN, FNAP, the site provides information and tools to build resilience, assist in an active crisis, offer coping strategies, and honor a nurse’s memory.
In other partnerships, ANA continues to work with its C/SNAs and the Tri-Council for Nursing, an alliance between the American Association of Colleges of Nursing, ANA, the American Organization for Nursing Leadership (AONL), the National Council of State Boards of Nursing, and the National League for Nursing, to share lessons learned so far from the pandemic through the lens of nursing practice, education, and regulation. In addition, ANA, AONL, and Johnson & Johnson have partnered on the Charting the Nursing Path Forward Listening Tour.