Nurses and other healthcare providers are at the frontline of the COVID-19 vaccination efforts. Ann Marie Muñana, a nursing and healthcare leader at Chamberlain University who also serves on the Chicago Department of Public Health’s Scientific COVID-19 Vaccine Work Group, shared insights from frontline efforts to distribute the COVID-19 vaccines. She also reflected on what it will take to increase vaccine trust and accelerate the vaccination rate. The following interview has been lightly edited and condensed for clarity.
Let’s start by talking about the Vaccine Work Group. Can you tell me what is its purpose and what has it accomplished so far?
Sure, absolutely. The work group was put together by our leaders at the Chicago Department of Public Health, our healthcare commissioner, Dr. Allison Arwady. And it includes a number of area experts, physicians, scientists, nurses, ethicist statisticians who look at the data that was coming to the FDA, to the Food and Drug Administration as their process to do the emergency authorizations for the first two vaccines, the Pfizer vaccine and the Moderna vaccine.
And so our goal was to you know, make sure that we were comfortable with how the process was going because there’s been so much dialogue and so much focus on the speed at which the vaccine was developed, that it was important to have members of the Chicago healthcare community support the vaccine in order to improve and increase the distribution, or actually the vaccine acceptance rate that is so important. We can have a vaccination, but if people are not getting the vaccine, you know, that’s a problem. So we were lending our expertise and our voice to the Department of Health to confirm that we feel that the FDA did what the FDA needs to do in order to issue the emergency authorization.
Have you seen any results yet, from your efforts?
Well, our findings, our summary, our results are published on the Chicago Department of Public Health’s website and basically just confirming and holding and supporting the findings from the FDA and the safety of the vaccine. And so our hope is to now, as we move forward, to reach out and be a part of the community effort to encourage and to educate our community on the importance of the vaccine and its safety.
What are you finding is key to engaging the community and also combating the misinformation that’s out there?
One of the challenges that we’ve seen is just the huge amount of information from all areas, right? It’s from the television, from the internet, from family members, from friends. There’s just so much information that it is daunting for some of our patients and members of our community to sort through and to understand. And so our responsibility and our duty as healthcare providers, as clinicians, as doctors, nurses, and other members of the team, is to be the voice of our patients and to help them understand and help them make that decision that they need to make in order to accept the vaccine and take the vaccine. And so I think one of the challenges has been all that information. I think there’s been a disconnect in perhaps some of the leadership on do this, don’t do this and, and people changing their opinions. So it is very confusing and that’s going to be one of the challenges that we face is to make sure that we are messaging correctly. And appropriately.
Are there any lessons that have been learned from distributing other vaccines that might help such as the flu, hepatitis B, or HPV vaccines?
I think the lessons that are learned every step of this process is important. Every element from the vaccine development to the trials and the men and women who volunteered for the trials. And then now onto the distribution, it’s all very, very important. And I must say we certainly have been impacted by some things as straightforward as the temperature of the vaccine and how that has impacted the distribution.
And so, I think it’s important that not only do we commit the resources to our scientists and our labs and our you know, pharmaceutical company labs to develop the vaccines, but we also have to be very, very on top of the distribution and what that means. And when we say we’re going to have, you know, a million vaccines, well, that’s also a million bandaids, a million needles, a million alcohol swabs, and that whole process needs to come together. I think communication is another lesson that we need to make sure that we’re being responsible in our communication and being accurate. And if we don’t know the answer, then we don’t know the answer. And we find out the answer.
Listen to the full interview at the CXPod