The New River Health District continues to administer coronavirus vaccines for people throughout the district who are eligible, including high-risk minority groups and people who fall in phase 1c, the state’s third priority group.

Looking ahead, the district also is in discussions about how it can administer vaccines to college students, once larger quantities of vaccine supplies become available, said Noelle Bissell, the district’s health director, on Monday during a meeting with members of the news media.

Currently, the district is not receiving enough vaccine doses to vaccinate all of the region’s college students, which includes Virginia Tech students. Bissell said college students generally are heavy spreaders of COVID-19, so vaccinating them sooner rather than later, including ahead of May commencement ceremonies, would help to keep the virus from circulating. But she wants to make sure that the highest risk individuals receive vaccines first.

“To vaccinate all of the college students in our district would take a [vaccine] supply that is many times the amount that I get in one week,” Bissell said. “That would be a significant change in allocation, and we don’t want to take away from others in the state who need to be vaccinated because of risk. There’s a lot of things that go into the allocation strategy and at a time where supply doesn’t quite meet demand, there is this balance."

This week, the district is making a push to vaccinate people in the phase 1c priority group, which includes employees of higher education institutions. There are three clinics for Virginia Tech employees this week, held on April 6-8 at the Dedmon Center at Radford University. Employees may schedule an appointment here.

So far, about 35,000 people in the district have been fully vaccinated. Bissell said people who fall in phases 1a through 1c, the first three priority groups defined by the state, comprise about half of the district’s population.

All vaccines are administered by appointment only through the district because there is not enough vaccine available for walk-ins. Bissell said she hopes that the district eventually can administer vaccines without appointments, perhaps starting this summer when supply is supposed to open up significantly in the state.

“We have to get to a point where supply and demand aren’t so mismatched,” she said.

Overall, COVID-19 cases are declining throughout the district, and Bissell said she is pleased with the progress of vaccinations so far.

Still there are people in the district who want a vaccine but haven’t yet received one. Because of this, it is important that everyone, even those who are fully vaccinated, continue to follow public health guidelines, Bissell said.

As outside temperatures warm up, she encouraged people to socialize outdoors, to wear masks, and to avoid crowded indoor spaces. She acknowledged that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently announced guidance about what people can do if they have been fully vaccinated, including travel within the United States.

“It really is behavioral here,” Bissell said. “We need to ask people to continue to abide by those precautions to protect each other as we are in a race to get everyone vaccinated. We continue to celebrate every vaccine that’s given because that’s one step closer to the light at the end of the tunnel to get through the pandemic.”

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

**Members of the Virginia Tech community who are interested in volunteering at the clinics this week at the Dedmon Center can sign up here.

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