DoD Official Approves Expanded Use of Flu-Shot Vaccine
By Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service
WASHINGTON, Jan. 14, 2005 As part of national efforts to protect more people against the flu, the Defense Department's top health official today authorized the use of military flu-shot vaccine previously held in reserve.
Dr. William Winkenwerder Jr. signed a memorandum directing the expanded use of stored flu-shot serum for servicemembers and other eligible recipients such as family members and military retirees. This policy change allows the services to use flu shots for non-high risk persons, including active duty, while continuing their aggressive efforts to get high-risk beneficiaries vaccinated.
The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses. About 36,000 Americans die from the flu each year.
DoD now has about 500,000 doses of flu shot vaccine in storage, according to DoD officials.
A major flu vaccine provider to the United States had announced in October that its vaccine was no good. DoD then directed that servicemembers being deployed overseas, and other eligible recipients at potential high risk to the flu, including seniors and the very young, receive priority to get flu vaccinations.
Vaccination against the flu remains mandatory "for servicemembers whose command has vaccine available to them," said officials.
Yet, a relatively benign flu season thus far and sparse turnouts for vaccination by those at high risk to the flu seem to have mitigated an expected flu vaccine shortage.
Many in high-risk groups seem to have chosen not to obtain a flu vaccine this year. "They saw news accounts of long lines and felt it wasn't worth the hassle," according to officials. Consequently, DoD "still has a lot of flu vaccine."
So DoD will dispense this year's stored flu vaccine rather than letting it go to waste. Flu vaccine is developed to target specific virus strains expected only for that particular season. This year's flu season is expected to peak sometime in February.
Vaccination against the flu "is the best way to protect yourself and your family from influenza," Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Director Dr. Julie L. Gerberding noted in a press release today from the National Influenza Vaccine Summit.
Gerberding pointed out that "late-season vaccination is effective" against the flu. She urged unvaccinated people at risk to try once again to obtain a shot.