Defense Department Expands Flu Vaccine Program
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Dec. 23, 2004 The Defense Department is expanding its flu vaccination program to include people as young as age 50 and those in close contact with those at high risk of getting the flu, according to the Pentagon's top doctor.
Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr., assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, said during a joint interview with the Pentagon Channel and American Forces Press Service Dec. 22 that the military medical system has enough flu vaccine on hand to expand the program.
He credited the military community with its cooperation in ensuring that all deployed and deploying servicemembers and high-risk beneficiaries got vaccinated first. These included people under age 1 and over age 65, as well as those with specified medical conditions.
"We wanted to make sure that we vaccinated all of those people first as a priority," Winkenwerder said.
This effort was so successful, he said, that DoD still has some of its initial 2 million units of vaccine available to administer to people at lower risk of getting the flu. Also, he said, DoD received additional doses from Aventis Pasteur, which manufactured most U.S.-administered vaccine this year.
Extra shipments of Flu Mist, a nasal spray flu vaccine, will be shipped to military recruiting stations "to make sure recruits coming in and living in close quarters get their vaccines," Winkenwerder said. This newer vaccine has proven during clinical tests to work effectively on people between ages 5 and 50.
Winkenwerder credited the military medical community and the beneficiary population for sticking to the initial guidelines for distributing limited supplies of the flu vaccine to those who need it most.
"That's good news," he said. "Now we are in a better position to continue to use the vaccine that we have available. So we want to reach out now to vaccinate more people."
January and February tend to be the peak flu months, Winkenwerder said, generally because the weather forces people to spend more time indoors in confined spaces. This environment enables the flu virus to quickly spread from person to person.
To help prevent its spread, Winkenwerder encouraged people to take basic precautions: washing their hands frequently, covering their mouth when they cough or sneeze and using tissues. Hand sanitizers, while effective against bacterial infections, generally don't work against viral infections, he said.
Winkenwerder said these basic precautions can go a long way in protecting against the flu and preventing its spread. "We're hoping we have a safe, flu- free winter," he said.