All three COVID-19 vaccine boosters now are available in the New River Valley.

The Pfizer vaccine for children ages 5 to 11 is nearing approval.

COVID-19 cases continue to decline in the region.

This is all good news for the New River Health District, but public health precautions remain essential as the region continues to fight the pandemic.

During a weekly meeting on Oct. 25 with news media, Noelle Bissell, the district’s health director, reported that hospitalizations because of COVID-19 are equal to last week’s levels, at 38 people, and the region’s hospitals remain stressed. Some of the challenges are a result of low staffing.

“It’s not always a physical bed shortage, but it’s the staffing to man that bed,” Bissell said.

To alleviate the burden on hospitals, she encouraged people to visit their primary care physicians or urgent care locations if they are sick, rather than going to the emergency room.

She added that hospitalizations for COVID-19 patients typically are long and could last weeks or a month.

Bissell cited data from Carilion Clinic that more than 80 percent of the people who are hospitalized, on a ventilator, or die with COVID-19 are unvaccinated.

“We know that getting vaccines to those who are unvaccinated is still the best way to end the pandemic,” Bissell said.

Meanwhile, the Pfizer vaccine may be approved by next week for children 5 to 11 years old. The doses would be one-third of an adult dose.

“We are hopeful that we will soon be vaccinating this group,” Bissell said.

Also, as of Friday, all three COVID-19 vaccines have been approved as boosters and are offered in the Roanoke and New River valleys. This includes the full dose of the Pfizer and Johnson & Johnson vaccines and a half dose of the Moderna vaccine. People can mix the vaccines to receive a different one as a booster than they previously received, according to new FDA guidance.

“The data does show that it’s safe, and it does contribute to a robust immune response, and you’re not showing any significant downside to being able to do that,” Bissell said of mixing the booster vaccines.

The health district will not hold large vaccine clinics to administer boosters, because there is enough supply available, Bissell said.

Eligible individuals can receive booster doses at a variety of places, including pharmacies, the health department, and at a vaccination center now open at Valley View Mall in Roanoke in the former Sears location. See this campus notice or these guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention for eligibility.

“We don’t need to have that mass rush” for boosters, Bissell said.

She stressed that there is still significant community transmission of COVID-19 and that people should be cautious when celebrating Halloween.

Outdoor activities, such as trick-or-treating, are safest, but when transporting children from neighborhood to neighborhood, a vehicle’s windows should be open to increase airflow and prevent transmission. People also should wear masks while riding in a vehicle with those from different households.

Additionally, Halloween revelers should avoid indoor, poorly ventilated spaces when celebrating, she said.

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