KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — For the first time, flu shots will be mandatory for students to attend Defense Department schools in Europe, education officials announced this week.
The immunization policy, mandated by U.S. European Command, covers both the seasonal and swine flu viruses and applies to teachers and employees at more than 80 Department of Defense Dependents Schools in Europe, as well as 30,000 students. Children older than 6 months enrolled in base daycare centers and daycare center workers throughout Europe also are affected by the move.
“We fully support the EUCOM policy,” said DODDS-Europe spokeswoman Margret Menzies.
DODDS-Europe students already are required to get certain vaccinations for such viruses as polio, measles, mumps and rubella. Until now, however, the flu immunization, has been “highly encouraged,” but optional, a DODDS-Europe official said.
Students have 30 days from the date of enrollment to obtain required immunizations, according to Department of Defense Education Activity policy. But that could change for influenza, depending on the availability of the vaccine and when it arrives in Europe, officials said. Typically, flu shots are available in late September or early October.
Students could be given a longer grace period, depending on their family situation, Menzies said. And individuals could get a waiver for medical reasons or on religious grounds.
So far, DODDS students and teachers in the Pacific and in military schools stateside are not required to get the influenza vaccination, DODEA spokesman Frank O’Gara said. DODEA personnel are consulting with officials from the Defense Department’s military vaccine office about the recent EUCOM decision “to determine if this requirement will be extended to other geographic regions in which we operate,” O’Gara wrote in an e-mail.
The Defense Department isn’t looking at a mandatory flu shot policy across the department similar to EUCOM’s, said Michael Kilpatrick, director of strategic communications for the Military Health System in the Office of the Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs.
Requiring stateside family members associated with the military to get the vaccine when others in their community aren’t would likely cause “a tremendous amount of resistance” from teachers, students and parents, Kilpatrick said.
Mandatory inoculations may meet with less resistance overseas, where a military community tends to rely on the base for its health care, he said. In the States, even military families may have a civilian doctor “and parents get torn between medical communities.”
But EUCOM officials say the policy making the flu shot mandatory has been on the books for at least four years.
Armed Forces Joint Instruction 48-110 specifically says to administer influenza vaccine annually to schoolteachers, daycare workers and volunteers, on military installations, as a condition of employment. For children, it says that all other age-appropriate vaccines recommended by the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practice are required.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and ACIP started recommending a few years ago that children get the flu shot, said Air Force Lt. Col. Matt Wyatt, EUCOM chief of Joint Force Health Protection.
“I can’t speak to why DOD isn’t enforcing it,” Wyatt said. “We’re probably leading the way here in EUCOM.”
EUCOM is enforcing the policy because “our mission is to protect the health and safety of our beneficiaries,” Wyatt said.
When a child gets sick, that can take a parent who has to stay home away from the mission, he said.
“It’s about protecting the mission, as well.”
Wyatt said there’s no word yet on when the vaccine will arrive in theater. The vaccine for H1N1 will be part of the overall vaccination for influenza. “We anticipate only one vaccination,” Wyatt said.
EUCOM officials said there were 1,385 cases of confirmed H1N1 illnesses last year in the command, and many more that were not officially diagnosed. There are about 225,000 personnel and dependents in Europe.