Let’s take a look back to when the H1N1 virus appeared in the U.S last year. Were you and your family ready, or were you caught by surprise and fearing infection? America’s families experienced a double dose of stress last flu season; having to worry about the virus as well as the availability of the vaccine. The good news this year is that we’re on track to have sufficient stocks to provide the total force and our families with the vaccine.
Immunization is one of the best ways to prevent the spread of seasonal influenza. Therefore, DoD is taking a proactive approach to the upcoming flu season by requiring all healthcare workers, active duty personnel, and selected reserves to be vaccinated. Additionally, the novel H1N1 flu vaccine has been combined with the seasonal flu vaccine this year so you will need only one shot will protect against both H1N1 and seasonal flu. This would have occurred last year but H1N1 appeared on the scene after the seasonal flu vaccine production process had already begun.
Our supply of injections is expected to arrive in late September based on delivery from the supplier. We are not anticipating any availability issues like those experienced last fall. We’ll be following HHS guidance to ensure that we provide the vaccine to high risk populations first, but the vaccination will be available to all family members who would like to receive one as well.
Let me assure you that the vaccine is safe, effective, and will be widely available beginning next month. The H1N1 vaccine has been tested and approved by the FDA in exactly the same manner as the seasonal flu vaccines are every year, which have a very good safety track record. Remember to only trust information and supplies from reliable sources and never order a vaccine over the internet.
Some would ask why we go to all this effort over the flu. My answer is that influenza is not the common cold. It can be a severe to life-threatening disease and getting an annual flu vaccine immunization (either the traditional shot in the arm or the nasal spray vaccine) protects us from getting the disease or becoming severely ill. Immunization remains the primary method of reducing seasonal flu illness and its complications. The seasonal flu vaccine not only helps protect vaccinated individuals, but also helps protect entire communities by preventing and reducing the spread of the disease.
We’ll be monitoring the seasonal flu virus carefully over the coming weeks and months and will be proactive in developing contingency plans to address any public health issues if required.
Force Health Protection is the responsibility of every commander and service member and it is important for all of us to take the proper actions to protect our personnel, beneficiaries, coworkers and family members.
In addition to getting the vaccine this year, here are some other things you can do to limit the effects of the seasonal and H1N1 flu that I would encourage you to adopt:
- Cover your mouth when you cough. Covering your mouth with a tissue is best in order to reduce the spread of germs.
- Wash your hands often.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth.
- If possible, stay home from work, school and errands when you are sick.
Following these simple good practices will help us all stay healthy during this flu season.