New River Health District to expand COVID-19 vaccine distribution to Phase 1b recipients
The New River Health District has begun administering the COVID-19 vaccine to a new group of people — essential employees who work directly with the public and those ages 75 and older.
Also included are people living in correctional facilities or homeless shelters.
This large group, which the Virginia Department of Health categorizes as phase 1b, includes police officers, firefighters, K-12 teachers and staff, mail carriers, grocery store employees, and many others.
It could take several weeks to distribute the vaccine to this new group, said Noelle Bissell, health director of the district, during a virtual meeting with members of the media on Sunday afternoon. The district also continues to vaccinate health care workers and others who fall in the first phase of distribution, which began in mid-December in the New River Valley.
Currently, the district is administering the Moderna vaccine, while employees and residents at hospitals and long-term care facilities in the region are receiving the Pfizer vaccine.
In order to receive a vaccine, people in phase 1b must pre-register at the district’s website — nrvroadtowellness.com. They can also call 540-267-8240. Once they fill out an online pre-registration form, they must wait to receive a phone call from the health district to schedule an appointment for a vaccine. When they arrive for their appointment, they must present documents that identify them in the phase 1b group.
Bissell said it is unclear when the district will be able to offer vaccinations for the next phase, phase 1c, which includes people age 16 to 64 who have underlying medical conditions, people 65 years old and older, and those working in other essential job fields.
She encouraged people to follow the health district’s website and social media for future updates on vaccine availability.
“If you don’t qualify for phase 1a or b, please hang tight, be patient, and keep following for updates,” Bissell said. “This is a lot of moving pieces and things are going to change, and there may be different systems and processes in place for later phases. Don’t try to pre-register before your phase is available.”
Bissell said the health district has contacted businesses and schools locally to find out how much vaccine is needed. For efficiency, the district likely will set up vaccine clinics at some business sites, such as at large manufacturing locations.
Currently, the district schedules vaccination appointments based on its vaccine supply orders. Even so, what the district receives weekly depends on the amount of vaccine that the manufacturer has available.
Bisssell did not know the district’s total vaccine doses ordered for the New River Valley for the next week, because the number changes constantly. Already several hundred people are signed up to receive a vaccine over the next couple of weeks, she said.
“We don’t want to waste any vaccine,” Bissell said. “Every day we are monitoring what our supply of vaccine is and what our appointments are. We can’t get enough vaccine and get it out fast enough for everyone who needs it or for everyone who wants it.”
On Sunday, Bissell offered additional information about COVID-19 vaccines, which are available for free to the public. The Moderna vaccine requires regular freezer storage, while the Pfizer vaccine needs extra cold storage. The hospitals, along with local universities, have freezers available for storage, while the district also has special coolers and thermometers for transporting the vaccines.
Each vial of the Moderna vaccine contains 10 doses. Once the vial is open, the doses must be administered within six hours.
Bissell acknowledged that some people may be wary of getting the coronavirus vaccine. But she explained that the vaccines have been developed with high safety standards and tested in multiple trials with tens of thousands of people. Additionally, the vaccines do not contain the live virus.
Also, new versions of coronavirus vaccines are in testing and trial phases right now, Bissell said.
So far, the vaccine has proven to be effective in preventing people from becoming seriously ill from the coronavirus, but it is unclear how long it provides protection and how well it prevents someone from spreading the virus to others, Bissell said.
Because of these unknowns, people who are vaccinated should continue to follow public health guidelines, such as wearing a mask and physical distancing.
“We don’t want to get too excited just yet,” she said.
Even so, with rising coronavirus cases in Virginia since the holidays, the vaccine is more important now than ever.
“If we can ebb that transmission and put a break in that transmission, that’s where we are going to see the end of the pandemic,” Bissell said.
For Virginia Tech employees and staff who are not located in Southwest Virginia, please visit the health department websites in those regions. See a list of health department districts.
Updates on Virginia Tech’s response and participation in COVID-19 mitigation efforts will be published in the daily email and posted to the university Ready page.
Story by Jenny Kincaid Boone