YONGSAN GARRISON, South Korea — Army medical officials in South Korea say they’ve started giving the flu vaccine early this year, in part to distinguish flu outbreaks from a possible return of Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome, which begins with flu-like symptoms.

The vaccine arrived in South Korea on Sept. 5 and medical teams started administering flu shots to active duty personnel three days later, officials said at a community health forum Friday at the 121st General Hospital on Yongsan Garrison.

“Civilians can come in and request the shot, but we are looking to make a schedule of when large groups could get the vaccine,” said Lt. Col. Angelene Hemingway, of the 18th Medical Command. “We are here to ensure the health of our population.”

Hemingway also announced that 18th Medical is working with area schools to set up days when flu-shot teams would visit the schools. The preliminary schedule has those teams visiting Yongsan Garrison schools on Oct. 28 and Oct. 31, officials said, noting that those days could change.

The flu vaccine was requested more than two months earlier than normal, officials said.

“The intent is to get the flu vaccine to the entire population, to help separate the flu cases from a potential SARS outbreak later in the year,” said Col. Jon Wilson, deputy commander of clinical services.

“We ordered 10,000 extra doses, so we want to get everyone, whether at the 121st or the outlying clinics.”

Hospital officials also used Friday’s forum to remind patients they might be sent to a local South Korean hospital if certain special medical services are required.

Servicemembers and civilians are currently sent to any one of 12 Memorandum of Understanding hospitals near U.S. bases throughout South Korea, said Candace Fuda, the TRICARE and patient representative at the 121st hospital.

“We are very particular about where we send our patients,” Fuda said. “Members of the command have gone out and inspected all of the MOU hospitals. We are trying to dispel the sometimes negative stigma associated with Korean hospitals.”

All of the MOU hospitals used by the 18th Medical Command are modern, westernized facilities, Fuda said.

Medical command officials hold the community forums on a monthly basis. The next forum is scheduled for 10 a.m. on Nov. 17 in the hospital’s second-floor classroom.

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