In the early 1990s, Fort Wayne's three hospitals put competition aside to help create an organization with one objective.
“We know that the original mission of Super Shot, which is to vaccinate kids, remains at its core,” said Greg Perigo, now an Indiana Tech administrator who was with St. Joseph Medical Center when he served on the group's founding team. The team had plans to immunize 50 kids the first year, recalled Don Shook, now CEO of Allied Physicians Inc. But Super Shot ended up immunizing 2,500.
“Super Shot is unique,” said Executive Director Connie Heflin. “We're the second-largest immunizer in the state of Indiana.”
But the challenge today is greater than it was when Super Shot Inc. began offering vaccinations 25 years ago. Medically, the value and safety of immunizations has never been in doubt. But health professionals find themselves up against what seems to be a growing undercurrent of uninformed skepticism and fear.
The organization still has strong community support, with backing from the area's major hospital systems – Lutheran Health Network, which now includes St. Joseph, and Parkview Health – as well as the Fort Wayne Medical Society, the Fort Wayne-Allen County Department of Health and local foundations. And Super Shot, which immunizes more than 8,000 children per year at four clinics, is widening its outreach. Next week, the organization begins a pilot project with three Fort Wayne Community Schools, offering parents the opportunity to have their children receive required and recommended vaccinations during registration.
The myth that shots are dangerous to healthy children stems largely from a flawed 1995 study that linked vaccinations to autism, Perigo said. Subsequent research failed to find any such link, and the original study was retracted by the scientific journal that published it.
But, Perigo said, “there are myriad conspiracy theories out there.” As more parents buy into those theories, the “herd immunity” that protects populations from communicable diseases may be endangered. “We know preventable diseases continue to tick back up,” he said.
According to the Indiana State Department of Health, Allen County's 56 percent rate of overall immunizations last year was one of the 10 lowest in the state. Local officials think changes in the state's reporting system may be partly responsible. Super Shot's own vaccination totals have also been lower during the past few years, though they increased in 2017.
Heflin, who joined Super Shot last fall, wants to see her organization reach more families with the message that vaccinations are not only safe, but essential.
“We try to give them the facts,” she said. Parents “have to understand that they're putting not only their child at risk, they're putting others at risk – the grandparents that might be in the home, anybody they come in contact with at the grocery store that can't get their immunizations because they have a suppressed immune system.
“This is such an easy way to protect ourselves,” Heflin said. “We don't have to exercise, we don't have to have a special diet. You just get the shot and you're good to go.”
Vaccines are safe, no matter how many Internet trolls, rumors and this-happened-to-a-friend-of-mine stories you encounter. Everyone has a stake in Super Shot's efforts to make this community a healthier place to live.
Roll up your sleeve
For the location and times of Super Shot's four clinics, go to supershot.org. The clinics offer vaccines to uninsured, underinsured and Medicaid-eligible children and uninsured or underinsured adults. There is a $10 administrative charge, but those unable to pay are not turned away.