Starting this week, children ages 5 to 11 in the New River Health District can be vaccinated for COVID-19.

By Wednesday, the health district expects to receive its first supplies of the Pfizer vaccine, which the FDA authorized in a low dose form for this age group last Friday.

Noelle Bissell, health director for the district, encouraged people to be patient as they schedule appointments for the vaccine.

On Nov. 1, during a meeting with news media, she said she expects the initial demand to be high as the vaccine is distributed to pharmacies, pediatrician offices, and the health department to be given to children.

“There will be enough vaccine, but in these weeks, everyone may not be able to get the appointment when they want it,” said Bissell. “You can get your child vaccinated, but it may not be right away.”

She said that the district expects to receive 2,700 doses.

The district also is working with local school systems to administer the vaccine in schools, which is routine for other vaccines. Parents of children ages 5 to 11 in the region have received a survey inquiring about their interest in the COVID-19 vaccine for their children.

More than 50 percent of respondents said they want their children to be vaccinated for COVID-19, which is “heartening” news, Bissell said. That’s a higher percentage than some national surveys, she said.

“Getting more people vaccinated, including our younger children, that’s our way out of the pandemic,” Bissell said. “That will help keep our kids in school.”

A mobile vaccine unit also will visit schools in far Southwest Virginia, Bissell said.

Along with the Pfizer vaccine for children, the health district is offering all three vaccines as boosters for people who are fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Read more from the CDC about who is eligible to receive a booster.

Overall, COVID-19 positive cases continue to decline throughout the health district. Hospitalizations for coronavirus patients also are down, Bissell said.

She reminded the public that the CDC has issued new guidance for testing after an individual has had close contact with someone who has COVID-19. It states that a fully vaccinated individual should be tested five to seven days after close contact, while an unvaccinated person should be tested immediately. Read more about the CDC’s guidance.

Though COVID-19 cases have peaked and are declining, the region remains a high transmission area as defined by the CDC, Bissell said. That means that people still should adhere to public health guidelines.

“Though our numbers are down nicely, we are requesting that people still wear masks in public spaces indoors,” she said.

She also encouraged people to start planning for upcoming safe holiday celebrations. For instance, outdoor activities are safer than being indoors in large groups, she said.

“Everyone has to inform their behavior based on a risk assessment,” Bissell said. “A lot of our gatherings tend to be multiple generations.”

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