About 29 percent of the people in the New River Health District are fully vaccinated. But that’s not enough.

In an effort to reach the 75 percent threshold for COVID-19 herd immunity, the New River Health District is continuing to spread the word that coronavirus vaccines are available and that they are safe and effective. The district is going door-to-door in some communities and to local events, answering questions, clearing up misinformation, and offering vaccines on the spot to those who want them.

“This is a huge remarkable community effort, but we still have more unvaccinated than  vaccinated people right now, so we still have some work to do,” said Noelle Bissell, the district’s health director, during a May 3 virtual meeting with news media.

Largely, demand for vaccines is declining in the district, and similarly, statewide and nationally, vaccine supply is in line with demand, Bissell said. 

Also, by the end of this month, she said she hopes that the vaccine will be approved for people ages 12 to 16. 

Bissell offered the following updates regarding local vaccination efforts.

Phasing out large scale vaccination clinics:

Due to low demand for vaccines in the district, the last large vaccine clinic locally will be held May 18 at Lane Stadium. The district, along with local pharmacies and other health partners, will continue to offer vaccines to individuals. People may sign up for appointments at the district’s website.

Second vaccine doses:

People are able to receive second doses of vaccine throughout the state, no matter the location of their first dose, Bissell said. For instance, if a college student receives their first dose while in Blacksburg, they can receive a second dose once they return home for the summer through a local health department or pharmacy, Bissell said. The district will continue to offer vaccines throughout the summer.

Common reasons that people do not want a COVID-19 vaccine:

There are several reasons that people report not wanting a vaccine. They range from beliefs that vaccine development was rushed to concern that the vaccines were created using new technology. These both are false assumptions, Bissell said. 

The vaccines were created with the same technology used for treating cancer. Also, though the development process was shorter, the vaccines underwent the same rigorous clinical trial process as others, Bissell said. 

Now, more than 1 billion people worldwide have received a COVID-19 vaccine.

“We have good data now that vaccines are safe and effective,” she said. “It is important that people make their decision based on true scientific evidence.”

Vaccines protect others:

Receiving a vaccine not only protects a vaccinated person, it protects others, Bissell said. Some people may not be able to receive a COVID-19 vaccine due to a medical reason. But if as many people as possible are vaccinated, it keeps the infection from circulating throughout the population.

This is the concept behind herd immunity, the ultimate goal with vaccines, Bissell said.

“Even if you have a strong immune system, you can still transmit the infection,” she said. “We need to break that infection cycle to protect people who can’t get vaccinated.”

The coronavirus vaccines also are about 70 percent effective against certain variants, she said, adding that the vaccines are 95 percent effective in preventing a COVID-19 infection.

“Some immunity might be enough to give someone that boost that they don’t get really sick and  they don’t die [from COVID-19 or a variant],” Bissell said. “You take all of the immunity you can get.”

— Written by  Jenny Kincaid Boone

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