The local Super Shot immunization program serving both children and adults in Allen County is seeing lower numbers during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“Our mission is to provide access to immunizations regardless of the ability to pay,” Connie Heflin, executive director of the Super Shot program, said. “Our program is made possible by the generosity of our community. Vaccines are one of the most cost-effective ways to lower health care costs because we are preventing illnesses. We administer over $1.3 million in vaccines yearly based on CDC price guidelines.”
Besides administering vaccinations, the program routinely tracks the number of all vaccine doses given. The latest report show immunizations are down due to the pandemic.
“Super Shot saw a 54% reduction in doses administered May 2020 versus May 2019,” Heflin said.
According to a recent Indiana State Department of Health report, over 137,000 fewer vaccine doses were given out in May 2020 than in May 2019.
Heflin has served as the executive director of the Super Shot program since November 2017. The attraction of joining the nonprofit is rooted in her desire to be part of a program that has sway on an entire community.
“I think that getting vaccinated is truly a selfless, altruistic act. It shows our community that you care. I really like that this is public health, and Super Shot can have an impact, not just on one person’s life, but on a whole community,” she said. “That is what gets me excited about Super Shot; we are truly making the community a healthier place to live.”
COVID-19 has has a large impact on the economy, but cost isn’t an issue for getting vaccinated, she said.
“We are seeing a lot of families that have had to adjust because their insurance has changed. We treat everyone with integrity and dignity. We try to be good listeners and ease their worries. If they understand what we are going to do, it puts everybody at ease,” Heflin said.
“We accept most insurance plans. We serve uninsured and underinsured clients. Our focus for adults is mainly uninsured or underinsured. We accept Medicaid; however, we do not accept Medicare. If somebody is uninsured or underinsured, we ask for a $15 administration fee per vaccine. Legally, we must ask everybody for the fee because we bill Medicaid. If people say they don’t have the money, we call that pre-care,” she said.
Besides a general decrease in vaccinations numbers, the pandemic has magnified the reason to get a flu shot.
“A flu vaccination is especially important for the 2020-2021 flu season, because of the COVID-19 pandemic. Flu vaccines will not prevent COVID-19, but they will reduce the burden of the flu illnesses, hospitalizations and deaths on the health care system and conserve scarce medical resources needed for the care of people with COVID-19,” Heflin said. Adding, “We don’t have a vaccine for COVID, but we do have a vaccine for the flu. We all need to protect ourselves and our community with the tools we have. Everyone 6 months and older needs a flu shot.”
Another big concern for Super Shot health care clinicians is protecting the community from older, more familiar diseases like measles and pertussis (whooping cough). “There is a potential for the outbreak of measles and pertussis because those preventable diseases are still very much out in our community. We want everyone to maintain their immunization schedule,” she said.
Currently, due to the pandemic, the only Super Shot location dispensing immunizations is at 1515 Hobson Road.
Besides a mask and an insurance card, if available, Super Shot participants need to bring their most recent shot records. If a shot record is not available, to avoid a possibly lengthy wait, it is best to call ahead so the staff can research applicable records for the needed information, she said.
“Shot records are necessary so we are not over immunizing anyone,” Heflin said. Adding, education and communication between providers and their patients are key to improving vaccination rates among the adult population.”
Other former Super Shot locations around the city that were in shared spaces have been temporarily closed because COVID-19 guidelines could not easily be followed. The eventual reopening of those clinics is undetermined, but is not expected before sometime in 2021, Heflin said.
Finally, the importance of vaccinations is well documented; however, getting poked is not much fun. Putting children at ease is routine for the Super Shot team. Calming techniques begin by realizing children are apprehensive and finding ways to distract them. Sometimes, a clinician may get down on their knees to be eye-level with the child. While the child maintains eye contact with the nurse the vaccination is suddenly finished. Other times, asking a second nurse to hold a child’s hand during the vaccination helps. Sometimes, after getting a vaccination, a child can be heard commenting, “That wasn’t so bad.”
“It is really about being calm and giving care like you would give your own child. Having empathy and meeting the family or the child where they are is important,” Heflin said. “Every child deserves a shot at a healthier start to life, and immunizations are among the safest and most effective way to ensure a better future for our children.”