Hospitals in the New River Valley received the first coronavirus vaccine this week. And though supplies are limited, the New River Health District expects more doses to come over the next few weeks, said Noelle Bissell, the district’s medical director.

During a Wednesday virtual meeting with the news media, Bissell called the vaccine the “most ambitious” in history and said it will be administered fairly and rapidly based on guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices. People at the highest risk of contracting COVID-19, such as health care workers and those in nursing home facilities, will be the first to receive the Pfizer vaccine, the version that is available now. 

The health district itself expects to administer a vaccine by Moderna once it is approved, Bissell said. Vaccines likely will be available for the general community in the late spring.

“This is a light at the end of the tunnel,” she said, explaining that supplies of the vaccine are held so that there is enough for the required first and second doses per person. The vaccine has two parts, administered about three to four weeks apart.

In the meantime, Bissell urged people to be patient and cautious during the holiday season. Already, there have been increases in coronavirus cases in the district following Thanksgiving, with most of them occurring in people ages 25 and older. Hospitals are at capacity and health care workers are tired and stressed, she said. 

Continuing to follow public health guidelines, such as hand washing, wearing a face covering, and physical distancing, is essential, she said.

“There will not be a significant dent in this pandemic anytime soon,” Bissell said. “We are really trying to not have that [Thanksgiving bump] happen after the upcoming holidays.”

One way to be cautious this year is to keep holiday celebrations close to home, she added.

“Hopefully by next year, we’ll be able to celebrate our holidays in a more traditional way,” she said.

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone