DOD official approves expanded use of flu vaccine

Qualcun* sa spiegarmi perchè e a cosa serve questo vaccino?

by Gerry J. Gilmore
American Forces Press Service

1/18/2005 - WASHINGTON (AFPN) -- As part of national efforts to protect more people against the flu, the Defense Department's top health official authorized the use of military flu vaccine previously held in reserve Jan. 14.

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 nonhigh 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 the vaccine in storage, officials said.

A major vaccine provider to the United States had announced in October that its vaccine was defective. DOD officials 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," officials said.

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 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," a DOD official said. Consequently, DOD "still has a lot of flu vaccine."

DOD will dispense this year's stored flu vaccine rather than letting it go to waste. Flu vaccines are developed to target specific virus strains expected only for that particular season. This year's flu season is expected to peak sometime in February, officials said.

Vaccination against the flu "is the best way to protect yourself and your family from influenza," said Dr. Julie Gerberding, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention director.

Dr. Gerberding said that "late-season vaccination is effective" against the flu. She urged unvaccinated people at risk to try once again to obtain a shot.

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