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Preventive Medicine Chief Cites Importance of Vaccinations

By Christen N. McCluney
Special to American Forces Press Service

WASHINGTON, Aug. 21, 2009 – August is National Immunization Month, and a senior Navy medical official encouraged servicemembers to be up to date on flu vaccines during a “Dot Mil Docs” interview yesterday on Pentagon Web Radio.

“Anyone that is active duty should receive a vaccine,” said Navy Capt. Neal A. Naito, director of clinical care and public health at the Navy’s Bureau of Medicine and Surgery. “We need to protect our servicemembers as they go about protecting our country.”

As early as next week, military treatment facilities will start receiving the flu vaccine and will start rolling out their campaigns to encourage people to be vaccinated. Not all facilities will receive their vaccines at the same time, Naito noted, so beneficiaries should watch for local information.

The flu vaccines come in two types of formulations, Naito said: a nasal-spray vaccine made with live, weakened flu viruses that do not cause the flu, and the so-called "flu shot," an inactivated vaccine containing killed virus that is given with a needle.

“There is no reason to avoid the [vaccinations] because of the two different formulations,” Naito said. “The needle technology these days is so great that it is almost pain-free getting these injections.”

Naito added that the seasonal flu vaccines may provide some slight protection against other influenza viruses such as H1N1, but he encouraged beneficiaries to get the individual shots for other strains as well. Vaccinations for H1NI and other infections can be received at the same time, he noted.

Navy Medicine has been in the forefront of flu surveillance activity for many years, Naito said. The Naval Health Research Center, part of the Defense Department’s Global Emerging Infections System, picked up the initial presence of H1N1 flu in the United States in April and continues to monitor areas where influenza viruses typically show up first to protect the health of servicemembers and their families, he said.

“The reason why we are starting this seasonal influenza vaccine campaign early is because of the national strategy,” Naito said. “The government asked manufacturers to make the seasonal vaccines early so that they then could also manufacture adequate stocks of the H1NI vaccines. So it’s key to get the seasonal vaccine as early as possible, which allows us to roll out the H1N1 vaccines more efficiently.”

Getting your vaccinated early helps not only the individual, but also the community, Naito said. “Immunization remains the primary method of reducing seasonal flu illness and its complications,” he explained. “Seasonal influenza can be a disease that is problematic for people and can be severe.”

Navy Medicine will monitor the seasonal influenza virus carefully over the coming weeks and months and will be proactive in developing contingency plans to address any public health issues, the captain said.

“The health and well-being of all our beneficiaries is our highest priority in Navy medicine,” he said.

(Christen N. McCluney works in the Defense Media Activity’s emerging media directorate.)

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"Dot Mil Docs" on Pentagon Web Radio


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