Good news: COVID-19 cases are declining in the New River Valley.

Bad news: The public’s anxiety and frustration to receive a coronavirus vaccine is reaching new heights.

The frenzied search for a vaccine needs to stop, said Noelle Bissell, health director of the New River Health District, during a weekly virtual meeting with members of the news media. 

She said some people who are eligible to receive the vaccine in phase 1b are making multiple appointments with different providers. This creates a bottleneck in the system and takes too much time, an estimated 400 hours for the district so far, to reconcile, she said.

Right now, demand for a vaccine exceeds the dosage amount that the district receives weekly from the Virginia Department of Health.

“There’s just not enough vaccine for everyone who needs it or wants it, and we get that,” Bissell said. “I’m asking that everyone be a part of the solution and let us do the appointments as smoothly as we can.”

Last week, the district’s appointments for phase 1b were scheduled through March.

Bissell also called on people to be patient if they are not yet eligible to receive a vaccine. Right now, the district is vaccinating people in the phase 1b priority group, which includes those older than 65 and essential workers, such as teachers and police officers.

“We’re going to ask that everyone cheer every vaccine that’s given, even if it’s not in your arm,” she said. “Every dose is a shot against this pandemic, and every dose is a dose closer to herd immunity. That’s the light at the end of the tunnel.”

The district receives about 2,000 doses a week from the Virginia Department of Health, and Bissell said she doesn’t expect that amount to increase until late March. Additional supplies could come from several new vaccine versions that are nearing approval.

The district keeps a standby priority list at its vaccine clinics, and if there are extra vaccine doses at the end of the day, staff will contact people on that list. Though a vial of the Moderna vaccine contains 10 doses, and a vial of the Pfizer vaccine has five doses, at times a vial may contain an extra dose, Bissell explained.

“We use every single dose every single day,” she  said. “We will not at all waste a single dose of vaccine.”

National pharmacy chain CVS announced this week that it will administer the COVID-19 vaccine, and Bissell said the commonwealth is communicating with the chain now to understand how that will work. The district already is working with several local pharmacies to administer the vaccine to people in the phase 1b group.

Overall, Bissell said she is pleased that there has not been a significant spike in positive COVID-19 cases in the region since students returned to Virginia Tech and Radford University last month for the spring semester. Virginia Tech President Tim Sands highlights here the university’s strategies for moving forward safely this semester.

“The universities are continuing to do a good job of reminding students to remain vigilant,” she said.

COVID-19 cases in the New River Health District overall are down, following a bump after the holidays, Bissell said.

She reiterated that there continues to be limited evidence of coronavirus spread in K-12 schools when universal masking and other mitigation measures are in place. She added that vaccinating school staff in phase 1b is an important step.

“I do think we are in a good position to look at getting our schools back into session,” Bissell said.

People who fall in phases 1a or 1b must pre-register for the vaccine at www.nrvroadtowellness.com or by calling the district’s hotline at 540-838-8322.

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone