August nursing blog – ‘To vaccinate is to care – our new moto?’

‘To vaccinate is to care’ – Our new moto?

There is nothing like a global pandemic to make you rethink what is important to protect ourselves and others. In recent months we have witnessed the efforts of all front-line healthcare staff to promote infection control through the strict measures laid out within infection control guidance, by ensuring PPE is in place, alongside social distancing and hand hygiene practices to reduce the spread of infection amidst an ever changing landscape.

Earlier this month the expansion of the flu programme was announce in Scotland and within this was that all social care staff providing direct care would have the opportunity to receive a free flu vaccine. This has been welcomed by all providers as it offers a further safeguard at a time when infection control has been the highest priority in preventing loss of lives. This has come as excellent news to staff as the disparity over this protection from flu between NHS and independent care sector staff was one that had been fiercely contested. It therefore seems fitting that this has been agreed in this particular year when we must ensure everything is being offered to staff to ensure their health and well-being.

We know that the uptake in previous years has been variable across the NHS workforce despite having this access to vaccination and arguably the most preventative way to reduce cases. The availability to social care staff was patchy and often resulted in a cost to the employer or the staff member. This will undoubtably improve in light of the current pandemic, both through the uptake of the vaccine and the infection control measures currently in place. As we start to move into remobilisation and recovery plans across the NHS and community, it is important that we do everything possible to reduce the burden on the NHS and social care this winter, especially in light of a potential second wave of Covid-19. Our hospitals will have reduced beds and staffing due to the post Covid measures put in place, therefore preventing unnecessary admissions is key.

NHS boards will choose their own delivery option and this year it is hoped that care home nurses will self-vaccinate their own staff, which would hopefully allow a better uptake. This year’s national campaign will be fully inclusive of the care sector to promote the value of the work staff do with  adults who require care and support and the importance of getting vaccinated, as well as to demonstrate how we recognise the importance of  the health and well-being of staff alongside the protection of residents.

We have also ensured that flu campaign signage will be visible within each of our care homes across Scotland to ensure a strong message about  the need to be vaccinated and that this is being promoted and offered to our staff and residents alike. In addition to this we will record the uptake of the vaccine by staff as part of our daily safety management tool.

As we approach the winter months in a year where the loss of lives within our most vulnerable groups has been staggering the focus to ensure every safeguard is in place is paramount.

Within health and social care, the safeguarding of our patients and residents has always been at the forefront of all staff endeavours but perhaps they have neglected themselves in the process. Staff may perceive themselves to be invincible, healthier than they actually are and therefore not at risk

I go to the gym and take daily vitamins so don’t need the flu vac’.

We recognised that during the pandemic many frontline staff have experienced significant burnout which ultimately has a detrimental effect on staff well-being and immunity, therefore, potentially putting them at a greater risk of being susceptible to the flu .In addition to this many health and social staff are approaching the higher risk age groups and may already have a long-term condition (LTC). Even in healthy adults, the risks associated with the transmission of the flu virus have the potential to be life threatening. We know that clinically the vaccine does not provide full protection, but it could save your life.

Presenteeism has been cited as a common cause for the spread of the flu virus with staff going to work when having some mild symptoms but not sick, but actually harbouring the virus, therefore potentially spreading this within their workplace.

This obviously presents significant risk to patients, residents and staff alike. We also have people who have been diagnosed and survived Covid-19 which has resulted in the need for specialised rehabilitation and recovery care plans for some and has weakened and progressed the ability to recover for others. Some people may have been asymptomatic therefore it is unlikely to fully know the extent of those who had Covid19 which raises the potential that some people may have a weakened response or will be more susceptible to this year’s flu virus.

Over recent years there have been several pushes to have the vaccination of frontline staff made mandatory but this presents many moral, religious and ethical questions. Respecting staff choice is important as some staff are simply not able to take the vaccine, although the risk of adverse reactions is low they can exist, and vaccination should always require consent for that reason alone. Some countries such as the USA have chosen to make this mandatory in a number of states to ensure the decline of the incidence of flu and subsequently reduce the numbers who die from this. The arguments for this approach are ones which are still currently being explored in the UK.

There is no question that prevention is better than cure, especially in this year when the risk of a second wave of Covid-19 continues to be a real potential threat. Perhaps then the standpoint should be not whether we agree or disagree with enforcing a mandatory approach for all healthcare workers, but that we adopt a mutual benefit response to reduce loss of lives at a time when  residents, staff and families may still be in a recovery phase from the pandemic. What is ultimately important is ensuring we create awareness, provide factual information, dispel the myths and provide easy accessibility to the vaccine and ensure we properly record the uptake to assist in the future vaccination programmes.

With this year’s flu expansion programme, I am confident that social care staff with fully embrace this opportunity and that the uptake by staff will be high across both NHS and the independent care sector.

This really is everyone’s business and the reduction of the age to receive a vaccine this year for the people of Scotland highlights that we all want to prevent further loss of lives. Our flu campaign will launch in the coming weeks and I hope everyone gets behind this and does everything to play their part.