A “Team Asadi” and “Team Merced” COVID-19 vaccination clinic was held on the afternoon of May 20 at the Merced Civic Center, and 12- to 15-year-olds were welcomed, but only about 55 in that age group showed up and got shots.
In fact, the clinic, which was for everyone 12 and older, was not as well attended as previous ones.
The FDA approved Pfizer and BioNTech’s request to allow the vaccine to be given to youth ages 12 through 15 on an emergency use basis starting on May 13, and seeing the advantage, the City of Merced and Dr. Sima Asadi, a local physician in private practice, promptly stepped up to the plate to deliver it.
Dr. Asadi’s motivation is her belief in the importance of vaccinating the family members you can to protect the family members you can’t, and she refers to this as cocooning.
Allowing use of the shots in younger age groups is also expected to speed up efforts to drive down the number of COVID cases.
Dr. Asadi, who networks with the City of Merced to operate COVID vaccine clinics, reported: “On May 20th, we only did about 220 doses, which is substantially less than previous clinics.
“I would say about a quarter of the doses were received by 12 to 15-year-olds.
“Demand for the vaccine in Merced County has evaporated, and my numbers are better than most.
“The Civic Center vaccination clinics have fewer adults all the time.
“What’s happening right now is the mass vaccination effort is pretty much coming to a close. Anyone who really wanted a vaccination has had the opportunity to get one.
“A month ago, I could get 900 people and now it’s more like 200.”
Describing the interest in vaccinations for ages 12 to 15, Dr. Asadi explained, “The minute it dropped to age 12, my phone was ringing off the hook. They knew that I was doing this already, and starting Thursday or Friday [May 13, 14], I began vaccinating age 12 and above.
“The COVID vaccine sits in my freezer alongside chicken pox and MMR, and we do it every day. That’s the way it should be. I want to see this vaccine normalized like any other vaccine because it should be.
“I was one of the first people allowed to receive vaccine and vaccinate.
“The most critical function as a doctor that I provide children is vaccination, and it was comical to me that people were wondering why a pediatrician would be involved in vaccination efforts.
“I have vaccinated people who are pregnant and due in three weeks, people breastfeeding, starting chemo, just finished chemo, age 97, and now the youngest is 12. You can talk about it like anything else, and when you have so much under your belt, it is encouraging to people.
“When you bring your children to the pediatrician, it’s there to be offered to patients. I have 15,000 doses to my name, and my team’s name. It’s an easier discussion when I tell them you are Number 15,233.
“The children’s attitude runs the gamut. For children under the age of 18, a parent has to consent. Some children want the vaccine, and a parent is not willing to consent. Some parents are no longer together, and one parent wants the child to have it, and one does not. Without parental consent, I can’t do it. Then I have some situations where the parent wants it, and I can ease the child into it. There are some occasions where the 12 to 15-year-old is dead set against it, and thinks they are going to become infertile. That is an absolute falsehood. There is no mechanism whereby a vaccine can make you infertile.”
Opining on how much worse it is to contract COVID-19 than to receive the vaccine, Dr. Asadi said, “Right now, I have four patients — two are 15 and two are 16 — who got COVID between November 2020 and January 2021, and they cannot taste or smell at all, and with some, everything tastes terrible. That’s very depressing. They are stuck with no answers. This should really catch our attention. A virus that can take out one of our senses should really catch our attention. Right behind the cranial nerve for sense of smell and taste is the cranial nerve for sight. If this virus was temporarily making people blind, I don’t think people would hesitate to get the vaccine.”
“From the beginning of the pandemic, it became clear to me that the Public Health Department could not manage this on their own. Their services are very limited there now as compared to what they were 25 years ago. I intuitively know that for something of this magnitude, there was no way the Public Health Department could manage it well on their own.
“I was one of the first private practitioners testing, which I did in my parking lot, and then one of the first permitted to vaccinate.
“The real story is about what a private practice pediatrician can do when cutting through red tape. I enrolled in the provider program and was approved in 48 hours. I follow every rule, but whether it was testing or vaccinating, I just was able to do more than others.
“For over 20 years, I have forged relationships with all kinds of people. So, who are my volunteers? My first volunteer was a nurse educator at Merced College, who was in the parking lot of my office getting tested, and she asked if I needed help. That’s where it all started – it started with five nurse educators, people at Merced College who teach nurses, very highly qualified RN’s, who started helping me, and before I knew it, since we all have friends, five had turned easily into 45 and the team included veterinarians and other health professionals, and it became a mission.
“The whole thing evolved when Merced City Manager Stephanie Dietz called me two months ago and said, ‘Dr. Asadi, I need help. We have the firefighters vaccinated, but there are 150 Public Works employees.’
“The next thing I knew the whole thing kind of evolved again, and now I have a partnership with the City of Merced.
“That’s how I’ve been going out to the Civic Center, and it sure beats my parking lot which was a tight place and had cars. We still managed to vaccinate hundreds, but when I partnered with the City, hundreds became thousands.
“We have seen some side effects but when you look at the scale of how many we’re vaccinating, it’s huge that we haven’t seen more side effects. It’s obvious that it’s very safe and very effective. With anything you do in the millions, you’re bound to see problems and that we are not seeing more problems is pretty incredible.”