Concerns rising over vaccination rates
• CDC advises all Merced County residents to wear masks indoors
Dr. Sima Asadi has been beyond busy since the first rollout of the COVID-19 vaccines in this region.
The Merced pediatrician is known for her volunteer community clinics that have vaccinated more than 15,000 residents.
If only that contribution was enough.
In her mind, it’s not even close to being enough.
That’s one of the reason she was rushing to the Merced County Board of Supervisors meeting on Tuesday morning.
On her birthday, no less. And not to mention — of all things — she herself recently came down with the virus and recovered.
“I am fortunate to not be spending my birthday in the hospital as I contracted a case of break through COVID-19 myself,” she informed the County Times. “I have no doubt that the vaccine saved my life as well as spared those around me who did not get sick from me.”
Asadi just missed the public comment portion of the meeting. The appearance would have marked another anniversary of sorts. It was exactly a year ago when the pediatrician first went public by addressing the Board about her concerns regarding COVID-19 and schools.
Nevertheless, the doctor was glad to share with the Times what she would have said to county leaders:
“As some of you may be aware, the Delta variant is leading to a rise, again, in the number of cases. This increase in the positivity rate is unfortunately, again, rising in close proximity to the resumption of in-person school. With only one-third of Merced County vaccinated against COVID-19, and the inability to give vaccine to anyone under 12, I am, again, quite concerned that all of our efforts to get children back into the classroom are going to fail. …
“In other words, only one-third of us are holding up shields to protect ourselves and those around us, the bullets are flying like crazy, so the likelihood of children getting hit is even greater. Inevitably, there will be a few positive cases in a classroom, leading to the quarantine of those who are unvaccinated (which again, under 12 means the whole class). And then, at some percentage of positive cases or with enough staff members out due to illness or quarantine, entire schools will have to close down again.”
In recent days, Merced County health officials have voiced concerns over the Delta variant of the virus and a rise in hospitalizations across the state.
According to recent data released by the California Department of Public Health, 82.8 percent of coronavirus cases that have been analyzed in July have been identified as the Delta variant, up from 52.8 percent in June.
In Merced County, daily case rates, test positivity rates, and hospitalizations have increased slightly in July. There were 26 hospitalizations reported over the past week.
Officials warn the Delta variant is 40 to 60 percent more transmissible than other covid strains. They say unvaccinated individuals remain vulnerable.
The percentage of all residents in this county who are fully vaccinated continues to hover just below 31 percent, or some 85,800 people out of a population of 277,680. (The total population number includes children below the age of 12 who are not yet eligible for the vaccine. So the percentage of “eligible” residents who have been vaccinated is around 37 percent in Merced County.)
Officials say the vaccines protect against the Delta variant and other covid variants, but they do not offer complete immunity.
A total of 484 Merced County residents have died from COVID-19 and 32,961 individuals have contracted the virus since the start of the pandemic.
Meanwhile, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) revised its masking guidance on Tuesday to recommend that all individuals — vaccinated or not — wear masks indoors in areas with “high” and “substantial” COVID-19 transmission.
According to the CDC’s map, Merced County remains in a “high” COVID-19 transmission area.
Also Tuesday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state would issue updated guidance related to masks sometime soon. California already announced that state workers and health care employees must either show proof of vaccination or continue to wear masks, as well as undergo regular COVID-19 testing. Likewise, the Department of Veterans Affairs has become the first major federal agency to require that health care workers be vaccinated.
In Los Angeles, Mayor Eric Garcetti announced that all city employees will be required to either get a COVID-19 vaccine or submit to weekly COVID-19 tests.
All the new precautions bring it back home for Dr. Asadi.
“Ultimately, the story has not changed much over the past year,” she said. “Children are paying the price for the irresponsible actions of adults. Most, if not all, of the social ills that I had predicted last year that would come from school closures, are becoming glaringly evident. The childhood suicide attempt rate is climbing, the teen pregnancy rate is climbing, the school dropout rate is climbing, and to even discuss youth mental health as a crisis doesn’t even alarm anyone anymore. …
“We have just accepted that we damaged an entire generation of children and that is that. If our leaders do not act quickly to improve our vaccination rates, there is no doubt in my mind that the children in this county will continue to suffer.”
She added: “The Founding Fathers of this great country had the courage to take up arms to defend it, all we are asking is that the adults have the courage to take one in the arm.”
Merced County health officials encourage residents who are not yet vaccinated to schedule an appointment online using MyTurn.CA.gov or by calling 833-422-4255. More resources are available online at: countyofmerced.com/coronavirus.