Maintain COVID-19 Precautions After Vaccine Distribution

Vaccine rollout continues to be slow, so social distancing and mask wearing should remain common practice, nurses say.

While the approval of 2 vaccines for the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) may point toward an eventual end for the pandemic, nurses and patients alike should not give up protective behaviors just yet.

Oncology Nursing News is monitoring the development of oncology care now that vaccines are available in our content series titled, “I’m Vaccinated, Now What?”

When asked if she suspects a shift in attitudes regarding mask wearing and social distancing, Elizabeth Prechtel Dunphy, DNP, RN, ANP-BC, AOCN, a nurse practitioner at Penn Medicine, said that she does predict that happening as more people are vaccinated.

“We have been advising our patients to still maintain their social distancing and [personal protective equipment] measures… But I can foresee it happening out in the community,” Dunphy said. “And I worry. Even though you educate your patients, you’re not there to see what they’re doing and what their family members are doing.”

Another nurse, Jayshree Shah, RN, APN-C, AOCNP, MSN, BSN, BS, CCRP, is a nurse practitioner at the John Theurer Cancer Center, also said that she has similar concerns, and thinks that preventative measures such as mask wearing might last long term — if not forever.

“To me, [mask wearing is] the first safety net that we should still continue to practice, probably, in my mind, forever,” she said. “I think we need to still be mindful, especially working in oncology, because you never know what the immune status of your oncology patients will be. You never want to expose them, or vice versa.”

Shah reflected back to her travels in 2008, where she saw Asian people wearing masks. She was not sure why they were doing it back then, but now has a clearer understanding, and said that mask wearing has become a “natural practice” to Americans.

“I just hope that having this vaccine available and people receiving it does not mean that you lose all the preventative measures that we’ve been taking. Then I think we will go backwards and have more rates of infection coming through,” Shah said, noting that another spike in COVID-19 infections will lead to more delayed business openings and other implications.

Not to mention, the herd effect — where most people will benefit from high vaccination rates – will not take effect until more than half of the country’s population is vaccinated. Currently, most states are still in their first phase of vaccine distribution, which involves health care workers and select vulnerable populations.

“In Georgia, they just started vaccinating folks 65 years and older, and rollout has been patchy and going really slowly,” said Emily Beard, RN, OCN, GBCN, program coordinator of breast cancer at the Northside Cancer Institute in Atlanta, Georgia.

“There was a lot of hope a month ago that this was just going to be a new day, and I just think that we are sobered by the reality of how bad COVID-19 is right now,” Beard said.

However, Beard did mention that there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and she is not alone in that sentiment. Shah received the Pfizer vaccine, and considers it a “security blanket” when she is in the hospital treating patients.

“I feel really grateful that I was able to get [the vaccine],” she said.

More: Patient Questions on the COVID-19 Vaccine: Nurses Weigh In

COVID-19 Vaccine ‘Not a Quick Fix’ for Social Distancing Measures