The COVID-19 vaccine continues to make its way into eligible arms throughout the New River Valley, and demand is as high as ever.

The New River Health District is administering first and second doses of the vaccine to people in the phase 1b priority group, which includes teachers, police officers, and others who work directly with the public. The phase also includes people age 65 and older and those with high-risk health conditions.

Noelle Bissell, health director for the district, estimates that there are more than 9,000 people in the district who are eligible for the vaccine as part of phase 1a and phase 1b. 

On Wednesday, she offered the following updates during a virtual meeting with members of the news media.

Local pharmacies administering vaccine 

Some CVS Pharmacy locations in the region are scheduling vaccine appointments for people age 65 and older. Vaccine supplies are coming to the national chain retailer from the federal government’s allotment, not the state’s, Bissell said. People can schedule appointments through the CVS website.

The health district is supplying some local, nonchain pharmacies with vaccine to administer to people in phase 1a and phase 1b groups.

“We are working with them to use our priority list to make sure we are as equitable as possible,” Bissell said.

Though demand is high, she asked people not to schedule multiple appointments for a vaccine, even if they are able to get one quicker at another site. This puts a strain on the health district’s scheduling system.

“Please honor whatever appointment you get for that first dose,” Bissell said. “Let’s get other people appointments who don’t have them yet." 

Priority and logistics challenges

Though phase 1b includes a wide variety of people, the district is administering vaccine based on priority within that group. For example, people who are age 75 and older have priority over those 65 and older, Bissell said.

“I know it seems that it’s not fair, but anytime you have such an imbalance between supply and demand, there’s going to be that sense of injustice,” she said. “It will take a long time for us to get anyone who needs or wants a vaccine vaccinated.”

She encouraged people to remain patient as the district works through the logistics of administering vaccines, particularly as each vial of vaccine must be given within six hours after it has been opened.

“Every dose that we pull from a vial goes in an arm, and the logistical challenge is incredible,” she said. “When you have a large site and you have multiple vials open at the end of the day, we are trying to work from our wait list and our standby list to make sure that those vaccines get into someone’s arm.”

“We are asking people to cheer every vaccine given, whether it’s in your arm or anyone else’s,” she said. “That’s putting us one step closer to ending this.”

Status of moving into phase 1c

It could be the end of March or later before the district can begin vaccinating people who are eligible in phase 1c, which according to the Virginia Department of Health includes employees of higher education institutions and other essential workers in such jobs as housing construction, food service, and finance.

The district’s supplies of vaccine currently cannot keep up with demand, Bissell said. If other vaccine versions are approved in the coming months, there will be more supply available to help the district move into the next phase.

“It will take weeks to months, and we have to have patience,” she said.

New state vaccine pre-registration system

The commonwealth is creating a statewide vaccine pre-registration and scheduling system. It will merge the data from existing registrations at local health departments. With the changes to this system, the pre-registration section on the health district’s website,, will be down this weekend through Monday. About 760,000 people are pre-registered for the vaccine statewide, Bissell said.

Remain vigilant

Though positive COVID-19 cases are down overall in the district, the coronavirus continues to spread in the community. Bissell urged people to remain vigilant and to follow public health guidelines. Even those who receive the first and second dose of the vaccine should continue to wear a facial covering, maintain distance from others, wash their hands, and be cautious. 

It is not yet known if the vaccine will block transmission of COVID-19.

“The vaccine is the light at the end of the tunnel, but we still have a ways to go, and we have to hang in there together,” Bissell said.

—Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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