Nurses’ key role in COVID-19 vaccine rollout

Australia's Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer, Alison McMillan.

From the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, the nation’s nurses have played a key role in managing the impact of the virus. Unquestionably, they deserve our utmost respect.

At the beginning of 2020, Australian nurses travelled to Wuhan, China, and Yokohama, Japan, to repatriate Australians back into the country.

The critical role nurses play will continue as we enter our next important phase – the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines.

Nurses have worked tirelessly across the patient care spectrum – in respiratory clinics, general practices, hospitals, testing centres, aged care, and people’s own homes – supporting, comforting, caring, and treating.

We saw nurses from hospitals join their colleagues working in residential aged care facilities to continue to provide care to those most vulnerable.

Interstate nurses answered the call to assist their Victorian colleagues during Victoria’s second wave. They left their family and friends with the certainty of quarantine on their return home, to pitch in and help. The experiences of those nurses proved vital in the South Australian response to their outbreak a short time later.

Across the country, we saw nurses continue to care for their communities while also home schooling their children. The strength and resilience of our nurses and their willingness to continue working during extremely challenging circumstances is to be commended and makes me very proud.

Early last year, when the Australian Government moved to bolster the ranks of nurses around the nation to ease the strain on our health system and health workers as the pandemic took hold, our nurses stepped up. They did not hesitate.

More than 2,700 nurses refreshed their skills to return to the workforce, and up to 22,000 registered nurses took online courses to further hone their skills and knowledge to help in delivering care in intensive care and high dependency units across Australia.

Now, once again, our nurses are stepping up. They’ll be among the first Australians to get vaccinated. People who need protection the most will get the Pfizer-BioNTech jab first – our aged care and disability care residents and workers, healthcare workers, and quarantine and border workers.

The Government’s priority is to protect our most vulnerable Australians, and the frontline heroes who are protecting all of us. Our nurses are integral to this group.

But not only will they be among the first ones to get vaccinated. They will in turn go on to play a key role in vaccinating everyone else.

The Government is preparing for the COVID-19 vaccine rollout by securing an additional vaccine workforce and working to deliver essential training to everyone who will administer the vaccinations.

A ready and capable immunisation workforce will be critical to the success of the vaccination rollout and our nurses are certainly both ready and capable. They will be administering the vaccines efficiently, effectively and safely, particularly to our priority groups, including in aged care.

The Australian College of Nursing has taken the lead role in preparing the training materials which will cover the handling and administration of COVID-19 vaccines, including the use of multi-use vials and cold storage handling practices for the Pfizer vaccine.

It often surprises people that nurses are the largest group in our health workforce. In 2019, there were more than 330,000 registered nurses in Australia.

So they are a most valuable resource – one which the Government strongly supports and relies upon – and one which the Australian community can also rely on as the vaccine rollout progresses this year.

Professor (Practice) Alison McMillan is Australia’s Chief Nursing and Midwifery Officer

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