Now is the time.

Statewide, the COVID-19 vaccine finally is available for people 16 years old and older.

Noelle Bissell, health director of the New River Health District, on Monday urged as many people as possible to get vaccinated, particularly as new variants are reported in Virginia.

“This is how we’re going to keep our schools open, this is how we’re going to get our businesses and our economy back,” she said during a virtual meeting with members of the news media. “This is how we’re going to get back to that normal that we’ve all been seeking.”

She encouraged people who have questions and are deliberating about whether to receive a vaccine to contact the health district, a doctor, or a pharmacist. There is misinformation about the vaccines that should be addressed, Bissell said.

At least 50 percent of people in Virginia have received first doses of one of the vaccines. But people must be fully vaccinated, with two doses required for the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines, for areas to reach herd immunity. Herd immunity occurs when at least 75 percent of a population is vaccinated. 

Bissell said there has been a noticeable drop-off in demand for vaccines in the district, similar to trends in the state and nation.

Some of the hesitancy may be a result of Johnson & Johnson pausing its vaccine due to blood clot concerns, she said.

“Nothing is absolutely risk free, and everything here is a risk benefit analysis,” Bissell said. “When you have very low risk from the vaccines itself ... and a higher risk if someone were to get COVID-19, that's where we really need to take that time and we need to address people’s concerns and their questions.”

By this summer, Bissell said she expects that teenagers ages 12 to 16 years old will be able to receive a vaccine. Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorization to vaccinate this age group, and  “we expect it to be granted,” Bissell said.

She noted that people ages 16 and 17 must have signed parental consent to receive a vaccine.

This week, the district is gearing up to host several vaccine clinics, including a second large event at Lane Stadium on April 22. There, the district will vaccinate Virginia Tech students and also give second vaccine doses to people who have received their first doses. Students can sign up here for an appointment.

Individuals do not need to make appointments for second vaccine doses in the district. They should check times of clinics at the district’s website and visit the appropriate clinic when it is time for their second vaccine dose, Bissell said.

For the Pfizer vaccine, a second dose is given 21 days after the first dose, while for the Moderna vaccine, people should wait 28 days between doses, she said.

By Jenny Kincaid Boone