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DARMSTADT, Germany — With a limited supply of flu vaccines this year, military officials say deployed troops, along with servicemembers and their families most at risk of contracting the influenza virus, will be first in line for the shot.

Problems with one of the United States’ key suppliers has forced the military to pare down its vaccination program — normally available to all active-duty troops and their families — until supplies increase.

“It’s a national shortage to include all of the Department of Defense, but we do have enough flu vaccine for those who need it most,” said Lt. Col. Carol Fisher, command public health officer for U.S. Air Forces in Europe.

The shortage stems from the closure in England last week of a Chiron Corp. factory, where nearly half of the U.S. supply of the vaccine was made.

British regulators cited manufacturing problems that could cause vaccine contamination in their three-month closure of the facility.

The loss of Chiron’s 48 million doses, on the cusp of the November-March flu season, has sent medical facilities, including those in the military, scrambling for additional supplies. They also are limiting vaccines to those most in need.

DOD has not released official policy for administering the vaccine this year, said Phillip Tegtmeier, Europe Regional Medical Command spokesman. The DOD is likely, however, to follow the guidelines of the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, he said.

The CDC recommends that healthy people between the ages of 2 and 64 forego the shots this year. That will allow enough vaccine for deployed troops, the very young, very old and ill family members.

The DOD normally uses more than one supplier. This year, however, it ordered additional doses from Chiron, which is why it can’t immunize 100 percent of active-duty troops, according to an e-mail statement issued by U.S. Army Medical Command at Fort Sam Houston, Texas.

That leaves Aventis Pasteur, which is shipping 1.3 million doses, as the military’s sole supplier this year, the statement said.

Deployed forces in South Korea and in the Central Command area of operations, which includes the Middle East, already have received 480,000 doses of the 680,000 doses provided so far by Aventis Pasteur.

Aventis will ship an additional 620,000 doses to the DOD in the next four to eight weeks, the statement said. Initially, the DOD requested a total of 3.7 million doses this year.

However, with the shortage, the DOD now estimates that only 2.2 million servicemembers and high-risk beneficiaries will need the vaccine this year.

The U.S. Army Medical Command is formalizing an agreement with Aventis to provide enough additional vaccines to meet that need, the statement said.

The command also is pursuing a contract with the makers of Flumist, a nasal flu vaccine, which can be used by healthy people between 5 and 49 years of age, the command said.

Immunization clinics in USAFE do not yet have any influenza vaccine to administer, said Fisher, the command public health officer. Last year, USAFE clinics administered about 41,000 flu vaccines, she said.

“We will get the vaccine. It’s just not going to get to our facilities as early as it has in some years,” Fisher said.

Influenza kills about 36,000 Americans each year, and as many as 500,000 people worldwide, according to the CDC’s Web site.

Who gets the shots?

The Department of Defense is giving deployed troops priority for its limited supply of flu vaccines.

The DOD is following the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines for all others.

The CDC recommends the vaccine for:

People 65 years of age and older.Children ages 6-23 months.Adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic lung or heart disorders, including heart disease and asthma.Pregnant women.Adults and children 2 years of age and older with chronic metabolic diseases, including diabetes, kidney diseases, blood disorders, such as sickle cell anemia, or weakened immune systems, including persons with human immunodeficiency virus/AIDS.Children and teenagers, 6 months to 18 years of age, who take aspirin daily.Residents of nursing homes and other chronic-care facilities.Household members and out-of-home caregivers of infants under the age of 6 months.Children under the age of 6 months cannot be vaccinated.Health care workers who provide direct, hands-on care to patients.— From staff reports

How to avoid the flu

With the military facing a shortage of influenza vaccines this year, here are some recommendations to avoid contracting the virus if you can’t get a flu shot:

If you have flu symptoms, stay home from work or school.Avoid close contact with people who are sick.If you are coughing and sneezing, cover your nose or mouth — preferably with a tissue.Then throw the tissue away and wash your hands.Wash your hands often with warm, soapy water, or use an alcohol-based hand cleaner.Source: U.S. Air Forces in Europe Public Health Office

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