Immunizations Nurse Maruja Johnson, left, vaccinates 7-year-old Sam H. Scott against the flu recently at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. Sam, who has asthma, was one of the first children to receive the flu shot this year.

Immunizations Nurse Maruja Johnson, left, vaccinates 7-year-old Sam H. Scott against the flu recently at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. Sam, who has asthma, was one of the first children to receive the flu shot this year. (Amanda Woodhead / Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

SASEBO NAVAL BASE, Japan — Despite the shortage of influenza vaccine this fall, active-duty personnel and others defined as high-risk continued receiving immunization through the week at U.S. military installations in Japan and Guam.

The Department of Defense supply for all military services is about 1.5 million fewer doses than projected, according to a Navy news report last week.

The flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by one of several known influenza virus strains. It can cause mild to severe illness and, in some cases, even death.

At Sasebo’s Navy Branch Medical Clinic, sailors from Commander Task Force 76 filled a hallway Thursday afternoon, receiving flu shots, one-by-one, in the upper left arm. The medicine is delivered via a short needle, resulting in little more than a weak sting.

“We all came at this appointment, so we have around 30 today, with some on leave or TDY on the ships,” said Chief Petty Officer Luisito Deguzman. “And they (CTF-76 ships deployed near Iraq) took the flu vaccines with them, and the shots are administered on the ship.”

Lt. Randy Reese, a spokesman for Sasebo’s clinic, said they received the vaccine about a week ago. They have enough to immunize active-duty personnel and those considered high-risk military beneficiaries.

“The surgeon general of the Navy is asking healthy individuals to defer getting the flu shot this year,” said Lt. Cmdr. Gene Garland of Iwakuni Marine Corps Air Station’s Navy Branch Medical Clinic, “so the limited supply of vaccine is available to help protect the most vulnerable members of our community.”

Garland did not know when Iwakuni might get more vaccine, to have enough for all individuals who desire the shot.

“We are waiting for further guidance from the Navy Bureau of Medicine and Surgery on the future availability of vaccine,” he said, adding that so far this fall, there have been no cases of flu on base.

“That sounds like just about the same situation we have here,” said Sasebo’s Reese.

The Navy follows recommended guidelines and provides flu vaccine to those needing it most, stated Capt. Charles Baxter, a 7th Fleet surgeon, in the Navy report.

“The Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs sets medical policy for the DOD,” Baxter stated. “His Joint Preventative Medicine Policy Group met and prioritized this year’s supply of flu vaccine. These priorities follow the guidelines published by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

The Forward-Deployed Naval Force sailors are considered a top priority on the DOD’s list. In addition, the report noted, although voluntary for civilians, flu immunizations are mandatory for servicemembers.

DOD’s priority groups for this year’s flu vaccine include operational military personnel, recruits and their instructors, beneficiaries with high-risk medical conditions and health-care workers with direct patient contact.

U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka scheduled shots to high-risk beneficiaries last week.

Only beneficiaries notified by the hospital were eligible for the shots. Others who think they might fall within the high-risk group are advised by hospital officials to “call their primary care providers.”

“We have a sufficient supply of flu vaccine to cover our high-risk populations,” Cmdr. Ted Carrell, director of Occupational Health and Preventative Medicine at the Yokosuka hospital, stated in the report. “As more vaccine is available, additional groups will be immunized.”

The medical clinics in Sasebo, Iwakuni and Atsugi Naval Air Facility are branches of U.S. Naval Hospital Yokosuka at Yokosuka Naval Base.

At Misawa Air Base in northern Japan, the immunization clinic began administering flu vaccine the last week of October to individuals deemed high-risk under CDC guidelines.

The clinic is offering flu shots to priority individuals during regular office hours. High-risk categories at Misawa, base officials said, include people who are deploying, babies 6 to 23 months, people who are 65 and older, diabetics, steroid-dependent asthmatics and pregnant women after their first trimester.

The base received 1,000 doses of the vaccine, said Staff Sgt. Rebekah Virtue of the 35th Fighter Wing’s immunization clinic. As of Thursday, the clinic had 630 doses left. Base officials estimate that 1,100 people fall into the prioritized categories and note there have been no confirmed cases of the flu reported at Misawa this fall.

Virtue said the base is not expecting to receive more flu vaccine dosages.

Marine officials at Camp Fuji, Japan, haven’t encountered any flu cases yet, said Jon Dahlen, a base spokesman. Deploying personnel and units are given priority for the shots, but none have been administered at this point and no schedule has been announced.

Public affairs officials at Yokota Air Base, Japan, were unable to provide information by Friday. However, Friday’s base newspaper reported that the 374th Medical Group will offer flu shots to deploying troops and high-risk residents this fall, adding that officials there could not provide a schedule yet. Camp Zama, Japan, also was unable to provide vaccination information by Friday, but an Army news release said the focus for vaccine supplies would be South Korea and Central Command.

On Okinawa, shots are in progress for “all active-duty members who are scheduled to deploy and to Tricare Prime enrollees who meet the CDC guidelines for flu vaccinations this year,” said Amanda Woodhead, a spokeswoman for U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa.

The hospital is providing vaccinations only to selected active-duty members, she said, and others must contact their respective medical clinics.

She said Okinawa facilities would begin vaccinating “non-Tricare Prime beneficiaries who meet the CDC guidelines on Nov. 22.”

Woodhead said the supply now on Okinawa is all there is this flu season.

“We will not be getting enough vaccine to cover everyone. All excess vaccine after the high-risk population is vaccinated will be returned to the U.S. for redistribution,” she said.

Those on Okinawa who qualify for the vaccination must go to their primary care clinic. “The hours will vary depending upon the clinic and day of the week,” she said.

On Guam, both the Air Force and Navy already are administering flu shots and are following CDC guidance to determine who’s eligible for the limited supply.

Individuals assigned to the Navy — who qualify — may get their shot at either Naval Hospital Guam’s immunization clinic or the Navy’s Branch Medical Clinic during walk-in hours as follows: Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday and Friday, 8 a.m. to noon, and 1 p.m. to 3:30 p.m.; and Thursday, 8 a.m. to noon.

In a written response to Stars and Stripes, Senior Chief Petty Officer Jonathan Annis, a U.S. Naval Base Guam spokesman, noted that Naval Hospital Guam also now is giving the flu shot to children 6 to 23 months old.

The clinic has been receiving about 30 patients a day for flu shots, Annis said. Navy officials estimate that more than 1,000 people assigned to the Navy on Guam fall into the at-risk categories.

“Naval Hospital Guam is confident that there is enough vaccine available to meet” Navy medicine and Defense Department guidance requirements, Annis stated.

At the other end of the island at Andersen Air Force Base, the base immunization clinic began giving flu shots Thursday, according to base spokesman Master Sgt. John Hancock, who also answered questions from Stars and Stripes in writing.

People may get their shot during normal clinic hours. Those hours were not immediately available Thursday.

About 700 people fall into high-risk categories, Hancock said.

“Like other installations throughout (Pacific Air Forces), we have received enough of the vaccine to immunize those in the high-risk group,” he wrote. “We, like other bases, have requested more vaccinations and are hopeful they will arrive, whenever that may be.”

Air Force and Navy officials on Guam reported no flu cases among military personnel, civilians and dependents to date.

Nancy Montgomery contributed to this report.

High-risk groups identified

The Department of Defense uses the following descriptions from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to describe high-risk groups:

author picture
Jennifer reports on the U.S. military from Kaiserslautern, Germany, where she writes about the Air Force, Army and DODEA schools. She’s had previous assignments for Stars and Stripes in Japan, reporting from Yokota and Misawa air bases. Before Stripes, she worked for daily newspapers in Wyoming and Colorado. She’s a graduate of the College of William and Mary in Virginia.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now