Travel Nurses Face Challenges Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine
According to the CDC’s phased allocation plan for the COVID-19 vaccine, hospital healthcare workers are supposed to be prioritized to be the first to receive the vaccine. For many healthcare workers, that’s exactly what has happened. They’ve been offered the vaccine by the hospitals that they are employed at and have been able to receive the vaccine right on-site.
But, unfortunately, travel nurses are having a different experience.
Some travel nurses are running into trouble trying to get their COVID-19 vaccines when the hospitals they are contracted with are only providing the vaccine to actual staff members and travel nurses aren’t included in the priority access. Further complicating matters, travel nursing agencies don’t have access to vaccines either, so travel nurses are caught trying to figure out how to get the vaccine on their own.
Jumping Through Hoops for a Vaccine
Jessica Gibbs, RN, a current travel nurse in Detroit, MI, never dreamed that she would have difficulty getting her COVID-19 vaccine. But as she tells TravelNursing.org, that’s exactly what happened. When the hospital she is currently contracted with announced vaccines would be offered to all staff in early December, Gibbs inquired about receiving the vaccine as a traveling nurse. Unfortunately, despite going through seemingly endless rounds of multiple requests and emails, Gibbs was ultimately told that she would have to find the vaccine on her own.
In the end, she contacted the Michigan Department of Human Health and Services for advice on how to procure the vaccine and was ultimately able to schedule an appointment with the Lapeer County Health Department to receive her vaccine on December 29th.
Gibbs explains she’s used to having “extra hoops” to jump through as a travel nurse.
“That is a fact I accept and happily jump through the extra hoops as I get to go to some cool places,” she says. She points out that she always has to find and pay for her own flu shots, which she says is “understandable.” However, she believes the COVID-19 vaccine is a different story entirely.
“To be refused a Covid vaccine that the hospital paid nothing for is unacceptable,” Gibbs says. “Both travel nurses and staff nurses care for COVID-suspected and COVID+ patients. I fail to understand how a CNO can exclude travelers when we are working in the same conditions with the same patients side by side with the staff nurses.”
Jenn Dekeyser, a travel nurse in Las Vegas faced a similar situation.
“When I inquired about getting the shot at my current place of employment the person I spoke with (from education) told me that the shot was for employees and since I was a traveler, I was unlikely to get the shot,” she says. “My plan is to try at a different facility when I switch contracts to get the vaccine.”
Helping Her Hometown Get Vaccines
What makes Gibbs’ story even more frustrating is she actually left Washington and specifically took a contract position in her hometown of Michigan to help Detroit when it was struggling as a COVID hotspot.
“[My] Facebook friends were posting the struggles Detroit was facing and then Detroit made the news,” Gibbs relates. She believed so strongly in helping, in fact, that she accepted a decrease of almost $700/week when she took on her initial contract with the Detroit hospital.
“I was willing to work for the same low rate as the initial contract because the hospital I am at is truly struggling with staffing needs,” she says. “My presence was making a difference –– for me, walking into a struggling hospital and making a difference for the patients and staff is rewarding enough.
Gibbs never did hear back from anyone she tried to contact at the hospital regarding her vaccine, but she does note that the two emergency department managers –– both of whom happen to be traveling nurses as well –– were able to receive the vaccines. However, according to Gibbs, no ER travel nurses actually caring for the COVID patients are being offered the vaccine at this time.
Having been on the frontlines of COVID through the pandemic, Gibbs says being refused the vaccine by the hospital felt like being told she was a “lesser human being and nurse” than the staff. She says the things she has witnessed as a frontline nurse in the fight against COVID have affected her entire life.
“I am religious in my PPE use,” she explains. “I don’t go anywhere I don’t have to go. I haven’t had a haircut since before COVID started… I am not afraid of COVID,” she adds. “I am afraid of the complications we are seeing with this virus.”
“It is very exhausting and defeating to fight for 12 hours for someone’s life, shoveling your lunch in your mouth behind a glass window in view of the patient’s room while the ED resident is inserting a central line, knowing that this is the only 10-minute break you will have tonight because this patient and the multiple drips along with your other patients will now keep you too busy, just to find out the patient has passed 2 hours after your shift ended due to COVID complications,” she says.
Despite all she has been through, finally finding a way to get her vaccine represented a glimmer of hope for this hardworking nurse.
“My entire being is exhausted from COVID and this vaccine to me is one step closer to a little breathing room in this fight,” she says.
If you are a traveling nurse having trouble procuring a COVID-19 vaccine, contact your state or local health department for advice on how to sign up for a healthcare worker vaccine clinic.