The COVID-19 vaccine rollout continues in the New River Valley, where a growing number of people are receiving vaccines and the New River Health District anticipates moving into a new prioritization phase next month.

On Wednesday, Noelle Bissell, the district’s health director, told members of the news media that she hopes the district can begin vaccinating people who fall in phase 1c by April, depending on vaccine supply available. The phase 1c group includes people who work in food service, housing and construction, transportation, and higher education institutions.

The district is administering three vaccine versions, which are Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson. All three are effective based on the public health goals for the coronavirus, Bissell  said.

“We are not going to get to a COVID zero situation,” she said. “The way we are going to get out of this pandemic is to make sure that people aren’t getting severely ill, that people are not getting hospitalized, and are not dying. All of the vaccines currently approved are effective at doing that.”

Some people prefer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, the newest, because it requires only one dose, compared to two doses for the others, Bissell said. Even so, it is important that people receive one of the COVID-19 vaccines available, no matter the kind, she said.

“The more people we get vaccinated, the less virus is circulating,” Bissell said. “It really will help us get out of this [the pandemic].”

This week, the district began scheduling vaccine appointments for people ages 16 to 64 who have underlying medical conditions. 

As of March 10, the district has administered about 38,400 vaccines.

Vaccine demand still exceeds supply. Bissell said she hopes that once the district can receive more vaccine supplies from the state, that it can begin distributing vaccines at all local pharmacies.

As supply increases, the district is seeking more volunteers to work at its vaccination sites and call centers. Interested volunteers can submit forms on the health district’s website.

The district will host a live virtual forum on March 11 at 6 p.m to discuss the state of COVID-19 in the region.

Looking ahead, as people make spring and summer plans, Bissell encouraged them to be cautious, to follow public health guidelines, and to spend as much time outdoors as possible.

“It’s not where you go, it’s what you do,” she said. “Just practice the precautions. Those precautions are what are going to keep us from having any big surges from any kind of vacationing.”

By the summer, as more people receive vaccines, Bissell said she hopes that some pandemic precautions can loosen.

“I think we will be in a much better place,” she said.

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone