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)

The seasonal influenza vaccination is mandatory for the first time this school year for nearly 73,000 students at all 167 Department of Defense Education Activity schools worldwide.

The requirement was already in place in Europe, where U.S. European Command mandated the flu vaccine for DOD personnel, including school-age dependents at Europe-based defense schools, beginning with the 2010-11 school year.

But this is the first year that all schools — Europe included — have been given a specific compliance deadline.

When DODEA officials announced the new agencywide policy in September, it gave students until Dec. 1 to get vaccinated or obtain an exemption approval.

Students as a “last, last resort” could be disenrolled from school for failing to get the vaccine or obtaining an approved waiver in communities where the immunization is readily available, said DODEA Europe spokesman Will Griffin.

“We’re in the business of educating military-connected students — and not finding ways of keeping them out of school,” he said.

But DODEA’s goal, he said, is to “maintain a safe, healthy school environment” that’s conducive to learning.

School officials, when announcing the mandatory flu shot policy, said that reducing absenteeism was one way to improve student achievement, especially in the highly transient military community where the potential for exposure and the spread of infectious diseases is greater.

DODEA students already must get vaccinated against a host of diseases, from measles to polio.

To prevent students from getting disenrolled from school for not getting the flu shot, DODEA principals “should take every measure possible,” such as calling parents, calling the military supervisor or working with local commands through school liaison officers, Griffin said.

In some school communities, the vaccination deadline has been extended. At Ramstein Elementary School, students have until Dec. 9 to get vaccinated, according to a letter that went out to parents this week. As of Thursday, 498 students had not been immunized, and the school was sending out delinquent notifications.

Schools at Camp Lejeune, N.C., were given until Dec. 15 to meet the vaccination requirement, according to a Facebook posting by the Camp Lejeune District School Board.

Griffin said that that extension was based on local availability of the vaccine. Students will not be sanctioned if the vaccine is not available at local military treatment facilities, he said.

Waivers to the vaccine requirement may be sought for medical or religious reasons, according to DODEA policy. Religious exemptions, Griffin said, require a written statement from the parent stating that he or she objects to the vaccination on religious beliefs.

Griffin said Friday DODEA did not have a count of how many students were not in compliance. “With the recent deadline, school officials have received a large number of updated records over the past few days and are in the process of updating student information systems,” he said. “Once that process is complete, we will be able to determine compliance rates and if any appropriate follow-up actions are necessary.”

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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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