As Virginia loosens many COVID-19 restrictions, this summer could look more normal than last year for those who are fully vaccinated for the coronavirus, said Noelle Bissell, health director for the New River Health District.

Even so, the district plans to continue its push this summer to vaccinate as many people as possible for COVID-19.

During a virtual meeting with members of the news media on June 1, Bissell reported that about 36 percent of the district’s population is fully vaccinated and 44 percent have received one vaccine dose.

Although coronavirus cases are low in the district, “COVID-19 is still circulating,” Bissell said. “Those who are not vaccinated are at higher risk of infection and transmission.”

Through June 7, the district is offering the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine via a new mobile clinic. People may find out the locations and schedule of the clinic at the district’s website.

Health district representatives also are taking vaccines to events, including local festivals and the upcoming opening game of the Pulaski River Turtles on June 5. Representatives even are going to summer camps, food pantries, laundromats, and convenience stores with vaccine doses ready to give.

“We’re finding that if we go where people are and we’re offering all three vaccines, that they go ahead and take them,” Bissell said. “Meeting people where they are is grassroots public health. Smaller events allow us to engage people individually. We can clear up misinformation, answer questions, and discuss their concerns.”

The district also will hold regular vaccine clinics on Fridays from 8:30 a.m. to 10:30 a.m. at the Montgomery County Health Department and the Giles County Health Department. Appointments will be required.

Bissell said she expects that soon, the Moderna vaccine will be approved for children ages 12 to 17, alongside the Pfizer vaccine, which was approved in May for this age group.

By the fall, vaccines for 2 to 11 year olds could be available, she said.

Bissell acknowledged that there is misinformation circulating about the vaccines, in particular those for children. But experts have debunked these myths.

“The most important thing is to recognize that the clinical trials include a substantial number of patients in each of these age groups,” she said. “They haven’t cut any corners in any way as they are doing these vaccines in these different age groups to see that they are safe and effective. There is no reason to suggest that it [the COVID-19 vaccine] would have adverse effects in children.”

— Written by Jenny Kincaid Boone

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