Getting immunization shots for yourself and your children ought to be the easiest health care decision you ever make. But clearly, it's not an easy choice for everyone in our community. Tracking the number of adults who have all their shots up to date is difficult. But according to the Indiana State Department of Health's 2019 rate assessments, only 60% of children ages 19 months to 35 months old have completed the series of recommended immunizations.
“I don't get it,” said Dr. Deborah McMahan, the Allen County health commissioner, referring to the ongoing fear of and resistance to vaccines. All that worry is wasted energy that could be directed to other health care challenges.
“We should have 100% compliance,” she said. “It's a luxury only First World countries would turn down.”
In an interview Tuesday, she noted that other countries are struggling with polio and measles outbreaks, and “in Indiana, we're seeing increases in vaccine-preventable diseases.”
Vaccines, despite the whispering campaigns, are safe.
“They are thoroughly studied,” McMahan said. “Nothing is more studied.” Yet some still fear to get them, or decide to ignore the schedules for children's shots recommended by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control Advisory Committee on Immunization.
“Parents are delaying schedules, picking and choosing,” McMahan said. “There are reasons children should get certain shots at certain ages. Dragging it out is really going against the best medical advice.”
“It's not just (that) vaccinations are safe,” said Greg Perigo, vice chair of the board of Super Shot, which provides immunizations to children who are Medicaid-eligible, uninsured or underinsured, as well as uninsured or underinsured adults. “It's also educating people on the dangers of diseases” that have been controlled through immunizations. “I don't want to see those days come back.”
“There's a lot of work we need to do locally to raise the immunization rates,” said Connie Heflin, executive director of Super Shot. Bolstered by a grant from the Auburn-based James Foundation, Super Shot, while continuing its work in providing immunizations, is going to be working harder to get information out about the efficacy and safety of shots, Perigo said.
“Social media have allowed for a rise in conspiracy theories,” he said. “Organizations like Super Shot make it an inherent part of our mission to counter that when we can. We do intend to do more outreach.”
McMahan has been talking with state health officials about the possibility of a local study to determine why so many people fear immunizations despite the mountain of evidence that they're safe and effective.
Pharmacies for adult patients, doctor's offices, the Health Department, Super Shot for low-income families – there are plenty of places in Allen County where adults and their children can obtain the vaccinations they need. “Short of giving them at Starbucks and McDonald's, I don't know what else you can do,” McMahan said.
An easy first step: This year's flu vaccines will be available within weeks. Early indicators from Australia, McMahan said, are that this year's viruses may be particularly unpleasant. Ignore the internet trolls and get your shot as soon as it's available.