A coronavirus vaccine is coming, and the New River Health District is preparing for it. 

But until a vaccine is here and even as it rolls out, the community should remain cautious, said Noelle Bissell, medical director of the New River Health District, during a Wednesday virtual meeting with news media.

As the holiday season begins, it is more important now than ever to follow public health guidelines in order to mitigate the spread of COVID-19. Positive cases continue to rise in parts of the New River Valley, as do the number of people who are hospitalized with the coronavirus.

“It’s like a broken record, but it’s the same message,” Bissell said. “Try to bundle up and move things outdoors. If you do meet inside, try to shift the focus away from shared meals. As we head into the winter, let’s stay motivated and be careful. Let’s keep our loved ones, ourselves, and our community safe.”

Bissell highlighted the following topics on Wednesday.

Preparing for a COVID-19 vaccine

Two drug companies, Pfizer and Moderna, are finalizing COVID-19 vaccines. Bissell said she expects the health district to receive vaccine supplies in mid-December, starting with Pfizer.

The district has been working on its plans to distribute the vaccine. It will first go to health care workers and residents of long-term care facilities as well as emergency first responders. Health care workers are exposed directly to the virus, while residents of local nursing homes often have health conditions that make them more vulnerable to COVID-19. Local hospitals are working on their own plans for distributing the vaccine as well.

Bissell said she does not know the dosage amount that the district will receive, and it could take months before the vaccine is available to the wider community. That’s why people must continue to be careful.

“The vaccine’s not going to be a panacea,” she said. “It’s not going to immediately solve problems and flip a switch that we can go back to normal.”

Also, when receiving a vaccine, people should not be alarmed if they experience side effects, such as fatigue, headaches, and other symptoms. 

“That doesn’t mean that the vaccine has caused COVID,” Bissell said. “This is the immune system doing what it should be doing and mounting that immune response.”

Holiday vigilance

As the holiday season is in full swing, Bissell said she’s been pleased to see ways that communities are being creative with celebrations, such as holding virtual events and reverse parades. 

The district has seen an uptick in people getting tested for COVID-19 following Thanksgiving gatherings and travel, which was expected, she said.


As a result, “we anticipate that we will see a rise in [coronavirus] cases in the next week to 10 days,” Bissell said.

People should plan to bundle up in their warmest clothing and take their holiday gatherings outdoors, she said. Also, taking the focus off of a meal allows participants to wear face coverings while they are together.

“We need to stay the course,” Bissell said. “The vaccine is very promising, but people have to remember that it’s going to take time to reap the reward. We can’t just stop all of the precautions.”

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone