As her weekly press briefing Wednesday, Dr. Noelle Bissell, the New River Health District’s director, reported that the Federal Drug Administration (FDA) has authorized and the Centers for Disease and Prevention (CDC) has recommended a third mRNA vaccine shot — either Moderna or Pfizer only — for moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals.
Dr. Bissell said the health center is actively reaching out and partnering with the medical practices who see these patients, namely our hematology, nephrology and oncology patients. She described moderately to severely immunocompromised individuals as those patients who have been receiving active cancer treatment for tumors or cancers of the blood; received an organ transplant and are taking medicine to suppress the immune system; received a stem cell transplant within the last two years or are taking medicine to suppress the immune system; moderate or severe primary immunodeficiency (such as DiGeorge syndrome and Wiskott-Aldrich syndrome); advanced or untreated HIV infection; active treatment with high-dose corticosteroids or other drugs that may suppress the immune response; or asplenia, which is lack of a spleen and chronic renal disease.
Dr. Bissell pointed out to the press that these situations are very specific and represent “a very small percentage of our population – about 2 percent.” She also warned, however, that local pharmacies and community providers “are already being overwhelmed” with calls from people wanting a third dose who do not fall under this authorization.
She urged those unsure whether they are authorized for the third shot to talk to their physician. “We’re still waiting for data and guidance on additional shots for anyone else who received any of the vaccines,” the health district director told the media. “Anyone who has been vaccinated with one shot of Johnson and Johnson or two shots of Moderna or Pfizer is very well protected against severe disease, hospitalization and death amid this Delta surge.”
Dr. Bissell presented several mitigation strategies to use in addition to getting vaccinated: wearing a mask and avoiding crowds and closed, confined spaces. These are “good practices with other communicable disease outbreaks spread by the respiratory route as well,” she said.
Dr. Bissell pointed out that the Delta variant is surging in the NRV health district’s region. “We expect cases to rise for the next two weeks before subsiding again in the fall. The Delta surge hit this area about the last week of July.
Dr. Bissell reported 26 people hospitalized with COVID with two additional cases under investigation in the New River Valley. “We are seeing case numbers rise in children because they are a significant portion of the unvaccinated. Our younger children, those under 12, are not yet eligible to be vaccinated,” Dr. Bissell said.
COVID testing is widely available, according to the health district director. Antigen testing is available at Walgreens in Dublin and Pulaski and CVS stores offer PCR testing throughout the region as do MedExpress, and Alliance Express, she said. “Our pediatricians’ offices are also offering testing. The health department is offering testing as well.”
Dr. Bissell reported that more than 79,077 individuals have been fully vaccinated in the New River Health District. She cautioned that 95 percent of hospitalizations and deaths in this latest round of COVID-19 infections are among unvaccinated people.
“Our hospitals in Virginia and across the country continue to be under strain,” she told the press. “Ballad Health to our south has put elective overnight procedures on hold because of their surge coming out of Tennessee and southwest Virginia. The Virginia Hospital and Healthcare Association daily dashboard this morning reported 1,137 cases hospitalized with COVID. Their trend graph shows those numbers have been increasing since late July. This is reflective of the
There was a quote shared recently about the growing sense of fatigue and discouragement, and I’m going to read this quote from a hospital physician, the health district said.
“From the beginning of the pandemic, we got up every day and risked ours and our families’ safety because we were trained to care for the humans who needed us. We did our part, week after week, month after month. Then, with the vaccine, science brought us a solution, and we could finally see the end of all those months of fear, exhaustion and sacrifice. But that’s not what happened. Delta has taken hold and hospitals are filling up again. Healthcare workers are again strained to the max. This time the suffering is different because it’s avoidable.
“We are holding up our end of the bargain, but is society holding up theirs? There are some people who cannot or have very good reasons for not getting the vaccine. But most people refusing the vaccine do not seem to be acting based on data or science. These are the very people who reject science right up until they can’t breathe and then show up at our door feeling entitled to our help, which we can provide because of training based on science. Doing this work is harder when some of one’s faith in humanity is lost. And we are burning through our most irreplaceable health-care resource: hope. We used to unite, take care of each other, and overcome adversity together, but many of us are left wondering if we really can come together as a society to put an end to this?”
“We have a new crisis intervention center in Radford through New River Community Services that can provide great support to treat people locally,” Dr. Bissell reported. “The number for New River Community Services is 540-961-8300 and the crisis hotline is 540-961-8400.”