Nurse Maruja E. Johnson vaccinates 15-month-old Jordyn G. Graham while mother Christine consoles her at the immunization clinic at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Okinawa.

Nurse Maruja E. Johnson vaccinates 15-month-old Jordyn G. Graham while mother Christine consoles her at the immunization clinic at the U.S. Naval Hospital, Okinawa. (Amanda M. Woodhead / Courtesy of U.S. Navy)

Restrictions on the flu vaccine, prompted by shortages earlier in the flu season, are easing at several — but not all — U.S. military facilities in the Pacific.

The U.S. Naval Hospital at Camp Lester, Okinawa, for instance, has opened its flu vaccine stock to all comers. “Servicemembers and their families on Okinawa who have not previously been vaccinated against the flu this season may now receive the shot,” said hospital spokeswoman Amanda Woodhead. “New guidance released earlier this month directed medical treatment facilities to open the vaccination for all healthy beneficiaries over the age of 5 regardless of previous restrictions.”

That is, as long as enough vaccine is on hand.

At Yokota Air Base, Japan, for example, medical personnel have about 760 doses remaining, enough only for high-risk groups and mission-essential active-duty servicemembers, said Col. Steven Shaffer, the 374th Medical Group’s director of organizational compliance.

Shots also are being given to those who routinely interact with anyone at risk, he said, as well as aircrew members who travel through multiple geographic areas, deploying troops and other mission-critical personnel — including those in security forces, fire, the 5th Air Force, U.S. Forces Japan, operational support and aircraft maintenance.

“We don’t have enough to vaccinate everyone,” Shaffer said, adding that Pacific Air Forces officials have not yet indicated whether additional vaccine supplies are being shipped to Yokota this winter. “We cannot vaccinate the total force here because we have not received any more vaccine.”

However, at the U.S. Naval Hospital in Yokosuka, Japan, a spokeswoman said Thursday that the flu vaccine now is available for people not listed in high-risk groups. The immunization clinic is open from 8 a.m. to 11:30 a.m. Wednesdays and from 8 to 11:30 a.m. and 1 to 3:30 p.m. other weekdays.

At Misawa Air Base, Japan, the 35th Medical Group has opened flu vaccine availability to all active-duty military members and people 50 and older, said Staff Sgt. Rebekah Virtue of the hospital’s immunization clinic. She said the base has about 800 doses of the vaccine left.

In South Korea, a spokesman said military personnel, civilians over 50, children 4 and younger and people in close contact with those in all medical high-risk groups are eligible for the shots.

An Osan Air Base official said more groups may be added to the eligible list as supplies become available.

Typically, the flu season peak can occur anywhere from late December through March. In October — after the vaccine manufacturer notified the Centers for Disease Control that it wouldn’t be able to deliver up to 48 million doses of the vaccine — the CDC issued an alert calling for healthy people to skip their shots this year and recommended doctors and other providers give shots only to people at greatest risk.

The shortage since has abated. California, for example, recently lifted all restrictions on who should receive the shots.

On Okinawa, Navy Commander Stanley J. Jossell, director for Community Health, said the hospital and branch clinics will begin offering the vaccination starting Jan. 17.

“We are very much still in the flu season and would like to immunize the remaining population to prevent an influenza outbreak here on Okinawa,” he said. “This includes in-home child care providers and those with small children or elderly in the household.”

So far, the hospital and clinics have given 17,970 vaccinations on Okinawa to individuals identified to be at greatest risk, he said, but “we are now able to offer the shot to anyone despite age or health conditions.”

Those considered most vulnerable, Woodhead said, include children ages 6-23 months, adults over 50, people ages 2-64 with chronic medical conditions, women expected to be pregnant during the influenza season, residents of nursing homes and long-term care facilities, children ages 18 and under on chronic aspirin therapy and out-of-home caregivers or household contacts of infants under 6 months.

Okinawa personnel wanting flu shots must contact their primary health care clinic or stop by the immunizations clinic on the first floor of Camp Lester’s Naval Hospital. Further information for Okinawa base residents is available at 643-7441.

Franklin Fisher, Teri Weaver, Vince Little, and Jennifer Svan contributed to this report.

Some tips for avoiding the flu...

CAMP LESTER, Okinawa — While getting a flu shot is the best protection against infection, the U.S. Naval Hospital here suggests a few additional ways people can protect themselves against the flu:

Wash your hands:Most cold and flu viruses are spread by direct contact, so wash your hands often. If no sink is available, rub your hands together very hard for a minute or so, which also helps break up most of the germs. Alternatively, carry an antibacterial instant hand sanitizer that doesn’t require water.

Avoid close contact:Avoid close contact with sick people. When you are sick, stay home and keep your distance from others to protect them from getting sick, too. If possible, stay home from work, school, and errands when you are sick.

Don’t cover your sneezes and coughs with your hands:Germs and viruses cling to your bare hands. Muffling coughs and sneezes with your hands results in passing along your germs to others. When you feel a sneeze or cough coming, use a tissue, and then throw it away immediately. If you don’t have a tissue, turn your head away from people near you and cough into the air.

Drink plenty of fluids:Water flushes your system, washing out the poisons as it rehydrates you. A typical, healthy adult requires eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids each day.

Take a sauna: Researchers are not clear about the exact role saunas play in prevention but one 1989 German study found that people who steamed twice a week got half as many colds as those who did not.

Get some fresh air:A regular dose of fresh air is important, especially in cold weather when central heating dries you out and makes your body more vulnerable.

Exercise regularly:Aerobic exercise speeds up the heart to pump larger quantities of blood, makes you breathe faster to help transfer oxygen from your lungs to your blood and makes you sweat once your body heats up. These exercises help increase the body’s natural virus killing cells.

Eat foods containing phytochemicals:“Phyto” means plants, and the natural chemicals in plants give the vitamins in food a supercharged boost. Eat dark green, red, and yellow vegetables and fruits to increase your phytochemical level.

Eat yogurt:Some studies have shown that eating a daily cup of low-fat yogurt can reduce susceptibility to colds by 25 percent. Researchers believe the beneficial bacteria in yogurt may stimulate production of immune system substances that fight disease.

Don’t smoke:Statistics show that heavy smokers get more severe colds and more frequent ones. Even being around smoke profoundly zaps the immune system.

Cut alcohol consumption:Heavy alcohol use destroys the liver, the body’s primary filtering system, meaning that germs of all kinds won’t leave your body as fast. As a result, heavier drinkers are more prone to initial infections as well as secondary complications. Alcohol also dehydrates the body — it actually takes more fluids from your system than it puts in.

Relax:If you can teach yourself to relax, you can, over time, be able to activate your immune system on demand. Evidence exists that when you put your relaxation skills into action, your interleukins — leaders in the immune system response against cold and flu viruses — increase in the bloodstream. Train yourself to picture an image you find pleasant or calming. Do this 30 minutes a day for several months.

— Stars and Stripes

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