As the New River Health District works to administer the COVID-19 vaccine to an increasing number of people in the phase 1b priority group, it urges the public to be patient.

The current demand for a vaccine outpaces the district’s supply, said Noelle Bissell, health director for the district.

“We don’t have enough vaccine for everybody who is seeking it right now,” she said, during a Wednesday virtual meeting with members of the news media. “We are asking for some grace right now. We have been at this nonstop for 10 months and counting. We will vaccinate everyone, but it’s not going to be today or this week or this month.”

Bissell said the district orders about 5,000 doses of the Moderna vaccine from the Virginia Department of Health weekly. But it typically receives only 2,500 doses, based on available supply from manufacturers.

Those doses are given based on priority. Right now, the district is vaccinating people in phase 1b, which includes teachers, emergency services providers, police, and others who work in jobs that interact directly with the public. This group also includes people age 75 and older.

Additionally, last week, Gov. Ralph Northam announced that people 65 and older and those younger than 65 with high risk medical conditions would be added to phase 1b.

With this addition, it will take the health district longer than it initially expected to move on to  offering vaccines in the next phase, which is phase 1c, Bissell said. This group includes other  essential workers, such as people in housing construction, food service, media, legal services, and institutions of higher education.

She estimated that it will be a couple of months before the district can offer vaccines for phase 1c.

If more vaccine supply becomes available, the district will move more quickly, she said.

Along with scheduling large block vaccinations for bigger groups of people, such as K-12 school employees, Bissell said the district is working with local pharmacies and medical providers to administer the vaccine, mostly for older populations.

People who fall in phase 1b should pre-register for a vaccine at or by calling the district’s vaccine hotline at 540-838-8322. The district will contact people to schedule a vaccination appointment.

As of late December, the district has vaccinated more than 10,000 people, not including hospital systems, which handled their own vaccinations, Bissell said.

This week, the district is starting to schedule appointments for second doses of the vaccine for those who received the first dose 28 days ago.

The 28-day mark is a gauge to determine when a second dose is needed, but not all second doses will be scheduled at that exact date, Bissell said.

Within 14 days of receiving the first dose, people will develop a short-term immunity to the  coronavirus.

“That can last for months or longer,” Bissell said. “The second dose is a boost for longer-term immunity.”

She reminded people that once they receive a COVID-19 vaccine, they should continue to follow public health guidelines, such as wearing a face covering, maintaining physical distance from others, and washing their hands frequently. That’s because the risk of spreading the coronavirus, even with the vaccine, is not yet known.

A vaccine “is not your get-out-of-jail-free card,” Bissell said. “We have to take care of each other until we have most of our population vaccinated. We need to take care of each other until we get this pandemic controlled.”

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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