Kathleen Gaines, MSN, RN, BA, CBC
Kathleen Gaines, MSN, RN, BA, CBC
January 29, 2021 - 3 min read

What does the COVID vaccine mean for travel nurses?

As the novel coronavirus rages on across the country, there is hope for the upcoming year. Currently, there are two viable COVID-19 vaccines available to nurses throughout the United States, one produced by Pfizer-BioNTech and the other Moderna. Despite the overwhelming need to vaccinate Tier 1A (or Phase 1) healthcare workers, many travel nurses are left wondering when will it be their turn? An estimated 21 million healthcare workers will be eligible for the first vaccines, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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According to data from NurseFly, five states in the U.S. have seen 200% growth in demand for ICU nurses including Delaware, to a whopping 441% increase in Hawaii. This is partially due to continuing rise in COVID-19 cases, staff nurses out for exposure, and bedside nurse burnout. Unfortunately, despite the desperate need for travel nurses and the endless COVID crisis contracts, many travel nurses are finding it impossible to get vaccinated.

Hospitals across the country are getting doses of the vaccine but priority has been to the hospital employees and not contracted travel nurses despite their work location. For example, per diem outpatient clinic nurses are being offered the vaccine over COVID ICU travel nurses. It’s leaving many travel nurses confused and frustrated.

But this isn’t the case for all travel nurses. Some are being offered the vaccine through employers but it’s few and far between. For example, Fastaff travel nurse Maritza B. was one of the first nurses in New Jersey to become vaccinated through her hospital. Stories like this are few and far between.

Barriers to Vaccination for Travel Nurses

Despite the ongoing need to vaccinate ALL frontline workers with repeated exposure to COVID, there are numerous barriers to offering the vaccine to travel nurses. These include,

  • Limited number of doses
  • Second dose of vaccine is required for effective immunity which means the travel nurse must still be within contract with the healthcare system to receive a second dose.
  • Prioritization to staff hospital employees
  • Employees own vaccine bias

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How To Get the COVID-19 Vaccine as a Travel Nurse

The CDC and FDA are encouraging all nurses to receive the vaccination through their employer, but for some this isn’t possible. There are other options for travel nurses. Some of these include but are not limited to:

  • Contact local health department.
  • New Jersey healthcare workers can receive the Moderna vaccine through RIverside Medical Group. Contact 551-257-4587 for vaccine eligibility and questions.
  • Local retail pharmacies such as RIte Aid, Walgreens, and CVS.
  • Reach out to your recruiter and travel nurse agency for further guidance.

While not all retail pharmacies across the country have the vaccination as of yet, they are expected to receive the vaccine in the upcoming month. It’s important to call your local pharmacy for additional information.

One of the most important considerations with vaccination is that BOTH vaccines require TWO dosages for effective immunity. You must receive the same second dose as the first. For example, if your first vaccine dose was Pfizer-BioNTech then you must receive a second dose of Pfizer-BioNTech.

Mandated Vaccination?

Travel nurses across the country are concerned about the possibility of healthcare systems mandating the COVID vaccine. Currently, hospitals and long term care facilities are not mandating the vaccine to employees but there have been discussions of a future vaccine requirement for employment.

This could create numerous problems for travel nurses as vaccine production has not been going as expected according to the FDA and CDC. According to CBS News (https://www.cbsnews.com/news/covid-vaccine-rollout-behind-schedule-delay-millions-doses-short/), the country fell drastically short of an initial pledge to vaccinate 20 million Americans by the end of 2020 — just under 3 million people received the COVID-19 vaccine before the new year.

In addition to travel nurses, there are millions of other front line healthcare providers still waiting to receive the vaccine as well. It’s a waiting game for most nurses at this point. But, as Pfizer and Moderna continue to ship out thousands of doses of their vaccine, travel nurses across the country should begin to have access.

Interested in assignments in COVID-impacted areas? Start here.

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