Military Promotes Immunization Awareness
By Sgt. Sara Wood, USA
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Aug. 7, 2007 In recognition of National Immunization Month in August, Defense Department leaders are encouraging awareness across the military about the benefits vaccinations have provided to servicemembers over the years and their importance to readiness now.
In a message released yesterday, Dr. S. Ward Casscells, assistant secretary of defense for health affairs, noted the military has a long history of immunization benefits, dating back to George Washington’s inoculation of the Continental Army in 1777. Today, even though many diseases have been contained, immunizations are still important to the health of troops and their families, and to the accomplishment of the military’s mission, he said.
“Since (1777), we have used vaccines to offer our forces safe and effective protection from many deadly infectious diseases,” Casscells wrote. “Today we use vaccines to protect people based upon their location, age and mission.”
August is a good time to promote immunization awareness, because parents are getting ready to send their children back to school, and health care providers are preparing for the influenza season, Army Col. Randall Anderson, director of the Military Vaccine Agency, said in an interview today. Vaccination schedules begin at a very young age and continue past retirement, so every military member, family member and retiree needs to be educated about immunizations, he said.
“Many people are concerned about vaccinations; they don’t understand vaccination schedules. So it’s good to have all the educational materials to remind them, help alleviate their fears and let them know about many of the services that are available to them,” Anderson said.
Military members who deploy overseas receive specific immunizations based on where they travel, Anderson said. Other servicemembers and family members are vaccinated based on their age, gender, location and other factors. Parents need to be aware of what vaccinations are required by the state they live in and the school system, particularly as children prepare to go back to school, he said.
The Defense Department uses only vaccinations approved by the Food and Drug Administration, and every year new vaccinations are developed, Anderson said. For example, in 2006 a vaccination was approved that protects against human papillomavirus, which is responsible for cervical cancer. Also, military researchers are involved in developing vaccines for AIDS and malaria, he said.
Information about vaccinations is available at the Military Vaccine Agency Web site: www.vaccines.mil. The Defense Department also developed the Vaccine Health Care Centers Network as a resource for people within the department who have concerns about immunizations.