Frequent Deployments Require More Emphasis on Vaccinations
By Donna Miles
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, April 15, 2005 Frequent, short-notice deployments around the world demand that the military step up its emphasis on keeping the force vaccinated for contingencies it may face, according to the Defense Department's deputy director for the Military Vaccine Agency.
The expeditionary nature of the force requires that DoD plan ahead to provide its members the best possible protection against disease and illness when they deploy, Army Col. John Grabenstein said during an April 14 interview with American Forces Press Service and the Pentagon Channel.
"Vaccinations have always been about planning ahead," Grabenstein said. "We try to anticipate what is going to happen at the other end of that plane flight to the deployment area."
As a result, he said, DoD is conducting more surveillance about infections and disease that troops need to be protected against, Federal Drug Administration-approved vaccines to counter them, and Centers for Disease Control guidelines for administering these vaccines.
DoD is also making a greater effort to ensure servicemembers' shot records are up-to-date. This way, when a short-notice deployment occurs, the affected troops need only those shots specific to their deployment area, not "a big, long laundry list of vaccines," Grabenstein said.
This effort includes more screening of Reserve and Guard troops, checking their immunizations records each fall when they receive their flu shots to ensure they're current. Grabenstein said reserve component troops generally require more shots than their active component counterparts when preparing for deployments.
When entering the military, all troops receive a basic list of immunizations: meningococcal; tetanus and diphtheria; measles, mumps and rubella; and poliovirus. Other vaccines are frequently prescribed for travel to specific international locations or for certain occupations, Grabenstein said.
Other vaccines protect against bioweapons such as anthrax and smallpox. The Defense Department put its anthrax vaccination program on hold last fall pending legal challenges, but supports findings that the vaccine is safe and effective.
Grabenstein said mandatory immunizations for military protect the fighting force and keep it fighting, much as body armor does.
Since the first vaccine, against smallpox, was introduced in the late 1700s, he said, no other medical technology has surpassed immunization in protecting people against disease. "It's the biggest success story in all of medicine," he said.