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Most military immunization clinics across the Pacific are temporarily halting flu vaccinations for the general public due to the national shortage of influenza shots.

Defense Department officials announced last week that the agency is affected by the British rejection of Chiron flu vaccine — one of two major suppliers to the United States — but that it will be able to immunize all deploying servicemembers and other high-risk groups.

Personnel deploying in support of the war on terror are the only individuals now receiving the vaccine in the Pacific theater, said Lt. Col. Cindy Cogburn, command public health officer for Pacific Air Forces, in a written statement.

Usually, all active-duty members are required to receive a flu shot annually. But due to this year’s shortage, the Defense Department, in line with Centers for Disease Control and Prevention guidelines, is ordering that deploying servicemembers and those at risk of developing complications from influenza infection be vaccinated first. They include:

Children 6 to 23 months.Adults 65 and older.People with a chronic health condition, such as heart disease, asthma, cancer, HIV/AIDS, kidney disease, or diabetes.Pregnant women.Children 6 months to 18 on chronic aspirin therapy.Health-care workers involved in direct patient care.Out-of-home care-givers and those with household contacts with children younger than 6 months.Healthy servicemembers not scheduled for deployment will be deferred from receiving the vaccination until the more critical categories receive their shots, DOD guidance states.

When military immunization clinics will begin vaccinating priority individuals is yet to be determined.

Cogburn wrote that influenza vaccination programs are on hold — with the exception of people deploying in support of Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom — until DOD Health Affairs identifies all priority groups.

The vaccine, in the meantime, is in limited supply throughout the theater.

“Thus far, PACAF has received a partial shipment of vaccine and our expectation is we will only receive about 40 percent of our original order,” Cogburn wrote.

Army bases in Japan are waiting for guidance from Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii as to when to begin immunizing high-risk individuals, said Army Lt. Col. John Amberg, U.S. Army Japan spokesman.

“We’re expecting a shortage. We just don’t know how big it will be,” he said. “We are going to continue to provide the best health care possible and nobody needs to worry about that.”

Many flu clinics in the States are closing in the wake of the vaccine shortage, prompted by the British shutdown of Chiron Corp. after contaminated doses were discovered, according to The Associated Press. Only half of the 100 million doses the United States ordered will be received.

DOD is expecting 1.3 million doses from another source, Aventis Pasteur, a company unaffected by the British action against Chiron, officials said in a news release. Aventis has delivered 680,000 doses already, with the rest coming in the next eight weeks. The department also is pursuing a contract with the makers of the nasal flu vaccine FluMist, which should be used only by healthy persons between ages 2 and 49.

The Aventis Pasteur vaccine has slightly boosted influenza shot dosages in the Pacific. Capt. Shane Sims, 374th Aerospace Medicine Squadron Public Health Flight commander at Yokota Air Base, Japan, said in a written statement, that the Air Force received 15,000 doses of Aventis in its first shipment, which all went to PACAF. The rest of DOD’s vaccine went to support Central Command and U.S. Air Forces Europe. “The remaining shipments will be less than originally ordered because no vaccine will be received from Chiron,” he wrote.

Yokota’s immunization clinic gave 4,300 flu vaccinations last year to active-duty servicemembers, retirees, civilians and contractors. It’s received 2,500 doses from Aventis Pasteur and is expecting another 1,600 doses later this month.

For those not at the head of the line for receiving the vaccine, going off-base probably isn’t an option.

“The government of Japan is prioritizing their shots since they ran out last year,” reported Navy Lt. Cmdr. Collette Michaletz, head of the preventive medicine department at U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa. “U.S. citizens are not their priority.”

Staying healthy ...

U.S. Naval Hospital Okinawa published guidance last week on how to ward off common colds and influenza, since no cures have been found for either.

Here are some prevention tips on how to avoid contracting and transmitting the flu bug:

1. Wash your hands frequently to destroy germs that can carry the flu. If no sink is available, rub your hands together very hard for a minute or so. That also helps break up most cold germs.

2. Avoid close contact with people who are sick. If possible, stay at home when you are sick.

3. Muffle coughs and sneezes with a tissue, instead of bare hands, and immediately throw away the tissue.

3. Avoid touching your eyes, nose or mouth. Cold and flu viruses enter your body through these areas.

4. Drink plenty of fluids. A typical, healthy adult needs eight 8-ounce glasses of fluids a day.

5. Exercise regularly.

6. Eat healthily, including lots of fruits and vegetables and low-fat yogurt, which some studies have indicated seems to reduce susceptibility to colds.

— Stars and Stripes

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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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