We treat Covid patients. Here's why the 'pandemic of the unvaccinated' narrative is wrong.

Nurses outside hold signs "Protect Nurses, Patients, Public Health"

The delta variant is driving Covid-19 infections back up, even among younger patients, including people in their 20s to 50s and our children. Intensive care units in many communities across the country are once again overflowing. If you watch the news, chances are you’ve heard all of this can be resolved based on the behavior of just one group of people.

You’ve probably heard that we have entered a new era called “the pandemic of the unvaccinated.”

As advocates for public health, registered nurses want to be extremely clear: There is no such thing as a pandemic of the unvaccinated.

The science of epidemiology tells us there is just one deadly, global pandemic that has not yet ended, and we are all in it together. To get out of it, we must act together. All of us.

Believe us registered nurses when we say we know how badly people want Covid-19 to be over. This has been the most devastating, traumatic time of our careers, but we want people to know that there is hope. It is absolutely possible to end the pandemic.

Vaccines are an extremely critical part of a public health program to get us there, and nurses encourage everyone who is able to get vaccinated to do so.

Vaccines can help prevent severe illness, hospitalization and death from Covid-19. The delta variant has made breakthrough cases an increasingly pressing issue, and being vaccinated can be the difference between our patients having mild symptoms – and our patients dying in the prime of their lives.

However, vaccines alone won’t end Covid-19. They are one important component of a robust infection control program, and we have so many other tools in our toolbox that we must use to end this pandemic.

Those include: Universal masking, physical distancing, screening and testing, contact tracing, tracking of breakthrough infections, ventilation; and for health care workers, optimal protective equipment, safe staffing, proper isolation of patients and more.

Wear a mask in all public indoor settings

In late July when the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention course corrected its guidance and announced a return to masking in some indoor settings, nurses celebrated.

We also repeated our ongoing call for a return to universal masking in all public settings, regardless of vaccination status, a position from which we have never wavered since Day One of Covid-19.

That’s because nurses follow science and proper infection control, and we know that wearing masks is cheap, simple and effective for reducing the spread of the virus.

Future variants could evade vaccines

As nurses, we’re all about prevention and helping patients avoid illness in the first place – and that means preventing transmission entirely. If we don’t stop the virus from circulating and mutating, we could get variants that can evade our vaccines.

We’re all in this together, and if there are actions we all – regardless of vaccination status – can be taking to stop the delta variant from surging in our hospitals and our communities, we must do them. The public health messaging about “pandemic of the unvaccinated” plays to the worst aspects of human nature and does not encourage all people to practice the behaviors needed to curb this virus.

Going to the store or an indoor gathering? Mask up. Been exposed, even while vaccinated? Get tested and isolate while you wait for the results. Able to get vaccinated but haven’t yet? Make that appointment.

Stand with nurses, as we fight for proper infection control on the job, so our workplaces don’t spread Covid-19.

The delta variant is so much more contagious and deadly than what we faced back in March 2020, and we can only defeat it by understanding that we all have a role to play.

As union nurses, we have a unique perspective and practice in working in solidarity to realize a higher goal for the common good of everyone – and we never give up on our patients.

Here’s our public health message: The pandemic has not yet ended for any one of us, but we can all stand together and bring it to an end for all of us.

Bonnie Castillo is executive director of National Nurses United, which is the largest organization of registered nurses in the United States.