Mandatory Swine Flu vaccination for U.S. military
By Jim Garamone
WASHINGTON – All military personnel will be vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus, and the vaccine will be available to all military family members who want it, a Defense Department health official said Wednesday.
The H1N1 vaccination program will begin in early October, said Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Wayne Hachey, director of preventive medicine for Defense Department health affairs.
The vaccine, which has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, will be mandatory for uniformed personnel, the colonel said. “What we want to do is target those people who are at highest risk for transmission,” he said.
Health-care workers, deploying troops, those serving on ships and submarines, and new accessions are at the top of the list. “Any place where we take a lot of people, squash them all together and get them nice and close and put them under stressful conditions will get the vaccine first,” he said.
The department will use the usual seasonal flu vaccine distribution chain for the H1N1, Hachey said, noting that while the mass H1N1 vaccinations are new to the general population, the process for vaccinating against seasonal flu is old hat for the Defense Department.
“We’ve been doing this for decades,” the colonel said. “The system is tried and true.”
The department initially will receive 1 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine, and another 1.7 million doses later in October.
Officials don’t know yet whether people will need one dose or two, Hachey said. “The assumption right now is that people will need two doses, 21 days apart,” he said. “That may change.”
FDA officials still are studying H1N1 and the vaccine, and the results should be known by the end of the month.
Seasonal flu vaccine already is available, and the Defense Department will begin giving those shots shortly, Hachey said. “That has been our message to immunizers: to try and get as many people as they can immunized against the seasonal flu early,” he said.
Guidelines for giving priority to family members will follow those for the general population, Hachey said. The Department of Health and Human Services is buying millions of doses of the vaccine.
“Installations are going to register with each state as an immunizer,” Hachey said. “They will tell how many people they care for. This includes dependents, retirees and so on.”
The Centers for Disease Control will place the order and will ship the vaccine where needed. Family members will have multiple opportunities to get the vaccine, whether at Defense Department medical facilities or off post, Hachey said.
The CDC has established target groups for those at greatest risk for transmitting or being affected by the H1N1. They include pregnant women, health-care workers, those younger than 25 or older than 65, and those with pre-existing health conditions.
Hachey said previous plans are serving the Defense Department well. “We have been preparing for pandemic flu because of its potential impact on the mission,” he said.
The symptoms of the H1N1 flu are almost the same as the seasonal flu: fever, sore throat, runny nose, nausea, muscle aches and feeling rundown. The 2009 H1N1 virus – formerly known as swine flu – is a pandemic virus, according to the World Health Organization. U.S. officials call the virus “troubling” and urge communities across the United States to take actions to mitigate the effects of it. The federal government is urging states and municipalities to begin preparing now for the fall flu season.
President Barack Obama addressed the H1N1 pandemic following a White House meeting today.
“As I said when we saw the first cases of this virus back in the spring, I don’t want anybody to be alarmed, but I do want everybody to be prepared,” he said. “We know that we usually get a second, larger wave of these flu viruses in the fall, and so response plans have been put in place across all levels of government.”