Delivery problems hinder flu vaccination program in Iraq
November 30, 2004
FORWARD OPERATING BASE SPEICHER, Iraq — The shortage of flu vaccine plaguing the United States and Europe is also causing trouble for some troops in north-central Iraq.
Doctors at the 67th Combat Support Hospital in Tikrit and one of its support units, the 429th Medical Evacuation Battalion, say they have far less than the amount of vaccine they need.
A sign on the door of the hospital tent at FOB Speicher warns patients there will be no more flu shots until further notice.
“There is a mad scramble for vaccine,” said Lt. Col. Bobby Jones, the hospital’s deputy commander for clinical services. “It’s not plentiful. Not everyone has gotten it.”
Maj. James Stein, chief of preventative medicine for the 1st Infantry Division, is less worried about his line troops. He said that 61 percent of the division’s soldiers have received their shots, and he expects everyone will be immunized by Dec. 15.
“The troops in the theater obviously have priority,” Stein said. “We’re going to have enough, but the supply’s a little thin.”
Capt. Sharon Parker, a family nurse practitioner who is the 67th CSH’s immunization coordinator, isn’t sure her troops will fare as well. She said she requested 4,000 doses of flu vaccine, enough to cover 2,700 medical personnel plus some spare. The unit has been given 1,000 doses and isn’t currently expecting to receive any more.
But medical officials in Baghdad said Monday the shots are on the way.
Lt. Col. Marc Caouette, Multi-National Corps-Iraq pharmacy consultant in Baghdad, said there is no shortage of vaccine for troops. He called the situation in Tikrit, “an isolated incident.”
The 67th CSH wasn’t supposed to give flu shots to everyone on base, Caouette said in a telephone interview from Baghdad on Monday. Another unit has been given the mission of giving shots to troops in that region, but that unit hasn’t been able to get to there yet, he said.
“We have [the vaccine],” he said, “but they didn’t tell us that they were out. We actually shipped them 100 vials today.”
Hospital officials in Iraq worry about medical personnel going through the winter unprotected since they are among the most likely soldiers to come into contact with sick people. Military bases can be incubators for disease. Some of the first cases of the 1918 Spanish influenza pandemic that killed millions of people around the world cropped up at U.S. Army posts where soldiers were training to fight in World War I.
“It’ll just burn through a military camp,” Parker said.
Col. Edwin Moore, commander of the 429th Medical Evacuation Battalion — a Georgia-based Army Reserve unit operating at Speicher — is frustrated over the shortage.
“We were told [the vaccine] was ordered and everything was fine, but it wasn’t,” Moore said. “We do not have enough. We’ve been ordered to get 100 percent [of the unit’s soldiers vaccinated], and we will. But we don’t know how.”
Caouette said the military has enough vaccine in Iraq to inoculate all troops. He estimated that 75 percent of troops have received the shot, and everyone should be inoculated by the end of next week.
So far, there have been no cases of flu reported in Iraq, Caouette said. But it’s crucial that everyone get the shot, even though the military doesn’t fall into the high-risk category.
“We’re not considered high-risk,” he said, “but it’s a national defense risk if a unit comes down with the flu.”
Sam Amrhein contributed to this report.