ANNUAL LOS ANGELES FLU VACCINATION CLINIC TAKES ON NEW MEANING DURING COVID-19

The Los Angeles Dawoodi Bohras Medical Health committee, a group of volunteer health professionals, first initiated a flu vaccine clinic in September 2018. Today, we are right in the midst of a pandemic, and the flu vaccination has taken on new importance and urgency.

The Los Angeles Medical Health committee includes individuals in different healthcare fields, including physicians, dentists, optometrist, research analysts, and physical trainers. Dr. Khadir Kakal, who heads this vaccination clinic, says the number of people getting vaccinated has gone up exponentially. He partnered with Rite Aid pharmacy in initiating this drive. This year it was offered over two days, a Friday evening and Saturday, late afternoon. Dr. Rashida Saifee, Dr. Tasneem Poonawalla, and Muneera Hamid were on hand on Friday, while Dr. Aamer Jamali and Dr. Taizoon Yusufaly was there on Saturday to volunteer to assist the Rite Aid personnel administering the vaccines. The makeshift clinic was held within the Ezzi Masjid, or mosque, complex where social distancing was strictly practiced. Everyone had masks on and there were never more than ten people at one time.

Out of the vaccinations given, 10 were for members 65+ years old, 40 were for women and children. Both these groups are deemed especially vulnerable. The committee also facilitated pro-bono vaccinations for those requiring assistance. In particular, Zainab Rangwala who was part of the team played a pivotal role in helping with much-needed scheduling, ensuring that the process went smoothly. 

This flu vaccination drive started when Dr. Syedna Muffaddal Saifuddin (TUS), the spiritual head of the Dawoodi Bohras, mandated the flu vaccine be given to all mumineen to prevent the spread of communicable disease during large community gatherings at the start of the Islamic Calendar known as ‘the Blessed Ten’ or Ashara Mubaraka. The wisdom of this act is magnified this year, 2020, during a pandemic which is not clearly under control at this time, as to not add an extra burden to society with the spread of Influenza as well. 

Los Angeles Mayor Eric Garcetti urged all Los Angeles residents to get a flu shot before the typical season hits this fall to avoid possibly overwhelming hospitals with cases of influenza and COVID-19 at the same time: “I need you to do one more thing that you add to that list to protect yourselves and your family and your loved ones,” Garcetti said. “Every Angeleno has a critical role to play in preventing a worst-case scenario. Doctors are already talking about (the flu) … saying this could be the worst phase of this pandemic, just in the next couple months.” Garcetti further clarified the urgency of this action by adding if the area’s hospitals are overrun by cases of COVID-19 and the flu together, everything residents have worked for by staying home and avoiding gatherings could be threatened. 

Anyone can get a vaccine from a medical facility, but the uniqueness of this community organized service is that it provides it in one convenient place for every local family. No longer is it needed to contact multiple primary doctors and go to multiple locations to get vaccinated for various family members. This is a one-stop-shop, and during a pandemic when traveling is discouraged, it is a huge benefit for members.  Especially, when congregants have not been able to see each other, participating in this service further rekindles the bonds of community that we so strongly hold on to. 

Dr. Aamer Jamali, another important member of the team,  added that the model that is started by the Los Angeles community will be replicated in all the other United States communities. Communities with larger congregations like Houston, Chicago, Dallas have enough resources to run these vaccination drives, but smaller communities are at a disadvantage. This is when community members nationwide will step in to provide the personnel, and even funding, needed to ensure that every congregant in the United States has access to a flu vaccine. Having convenient access to flu vaccinations may be one way to protect ourselves from the ravaging and debilitating consequences of living in a world where viral pandemics may well become the new normal.