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In an October, 2015 file photo, Capt. Marc Dunham of the 51st Medical Operations Squadron multi-service inpatient unit gives a child a flu shot at Osan Air Base, South Korea.

In an October, 2015 file photo, Capt. Marc Dunham of the 51st Medical Operations Squadron multi-service inpatient unit gives a child a flu shot at Osan Air Base, South Korea. (Kristin High/U.S. Air Force)

KAISERSLAUTERN, Germany — Getting an annual flu shot will be mandatory for all students in Department of Defense schools worldwide starting this fall.

School officials said the new vaccination requirement affects all Department of Defense Education Activity students in the States and in the Pacific. Pupils attending DODEA schools in Europe have been required to get a seasonal flu shot annually since the 2010-11 school year, after U.S. European Command mandated the immunization for not only students but also for teachers and other employees.

“DODEA is moving forward with implementing the requirement for the annual seasonal influenza vaccine,” DODEA spokeswoman Elaine Kanellis said Friday.

The new DODEA policy was outlined in a memorandum dated Sept. 7 and posted online at www.health.mil, the official website of the Military Health System and Defense Health Agency.

The vaccine, DODEA officials said in the document, is the best defense against influenza. They assert the vaccine can indirectly improve student achievement by reducing absenteeism from flu-related illnesses.

“The military community is a highly transient one, which increases the potential for exposure and the spread of infectious diseases such as influenza,” the memorandum said. “Reducing the spread of preventable infections in schools and the military community improves students’ health, safety and attendance.”

Better health and safety, it adds, “reduces absenteeism” and “a reduction in absenteeism improves student academic achievement.”

Students are to get vaccinated against the flu by Dec. 1, officials said.

“We understand that in some cases the vaccines may not be available in all communities to administer to students” by then, Kanellis said. If that’s the case, students won’t be prevented from attending school, she said, adding that DODEA will work with local military treatment facilities to ensure students receive the vaccine as it becomes available.

An exemption may be obtained for medical or religious reasons, according to DODEA policy.

DODEA and public school districts across the United States already require a slew of other vaccines against infectious diseases, ranging from whooping cough to measles.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that everyone six months and older — with few exceptions — receive an annual flu vaccination. But not many states, if any, require students to be immunized against influenza as a condition of attendance.

Only two states, Connecticut and New Jersey, mandate the vaccine annually for young children ages six months to four years old enrolled in a licensed child care center or enrolled in preschool, according to information posted online by the CDC.

New York City’s mandate that all young children attending city-licensed preschools and day care centers be vaccinated for the flu was struck down last year after a group of moms sued the city in protest.

But in the military community, a mandatory flu vaccine for kids may receive less pushback. Active duty and reserve members are already required to get the vaccine, as are many children attending military-run childcare and youth programs on base.

The Defense Department orders more than 3 million doses of the influenza vaccine annually and many bases hold mass flu shot clinics, administering the vaccine for free.

Some schools have already begun to notify parents of DODEA’s new influenza vaccine requirements. At Aviano Elementary School in Italy, school officials in a note to parents on Thursday said this year’s vaccine was not yet available but once it was, there would be several opportunities for students to get vaccinated.

svan.jennifer@stripes.com

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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.
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