The New River Health District is taking COVID-19 vaccines on the road.

In an effort to make vaccines available to people in underserved and rural areas, the district is working with the Virginia Department of Emergency Management to deploy a mobile vaccine unit daily in various locations in the New River Valley, said Noelle Bissell, the district’s health director, during a May 24 virtual meeting with members of the news media.

The unit will run for the next two weeks, and it will offer the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. The schedule and locations for the unit can be found at the district’s website.

“It’s easy to vaccinate people when they are knocking down the door, and they want to get vaccinated,” Bissell said. “We are hopeful that we can expand our reach in our communities that have not yet had access to the vaccine ... and increase our vaccination rates across the area.”

Of those who were pre-registered for a vaccine in the New River Valley, more than 46,000 now are fully vaccinated, Bissell said.

She emphasized that the coronavirus vaccines are the avenue by which society can return to a pre-pandemic state.

“Vaccination is the best protection for the individual being vaccinated, and it’s the best protection for our entire community to move forward and get back to a normal life,” she said.

Through the mobile unit and smaller clinics, the district hopes to answer questions from people who may be deliberating about receiving a vaccine.

With the Pfizer vaccine now available for teenagers starting at age 12, Bissell encouraged parents to have their children vaccinated. People under 18 years old require parental consent to receive a vaccine.

“Most young people are not going to get really sick with COVID, but they can still transmit disease,” Bissell said.

There is no evidence that the vaccines interfere with puberty, hormones, or fertility, she added. The COVID-19 vaccine should be viewed as similar to other vaccines, such as those for polio, meningitis, and hepatitis, that children receive.

“The whole reason we developed these was because the illnesses that they were developed to prevent are much worse than the actual vaccines themselves,” Bissell said. “They have just been a great discovery. We want to continue to promote vaccination, including COVID-19, in our younger population.”

Bissell said she will not be surprised if people need booster shots to the COVID-19 vaccines in the future. Evidence shows that COVID-19 immunity lasts six to nine months after vaccination.

As far as public health guidelines, recently Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam lifted indoor mask mandates for fully vaccinated individuals, a move that Bissell called “a great thing for people who have been dealing with this for over a year now, that we can start to enjoy more normal outings and gatherings.”

But mask mandates remain in place for schools and some businesses, and people should adhere to those rules.

“We are going to try and get through this together and take care of each other and abide by those rules,” Bissell said. “This is an evolving situation.”

Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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