RELATED STORY:CDC official downplays risk from swine flu vaccine

Military health officials in Europe expect to start receiving shipments of vaccine for the H1N1 influenza late this month or early the next, even as some stateside civilian hospitals and doctors’ offices began receiving their first doses of the vaccine last week.

The vaccine for what’s also commonly called swine flu is mandatory for all active-duty personnel.

Lt. Col. Megan McCormick, U.S. Air Forces in Europe Command public health officer, said "our medical depot is telling us not to expect anything before November."

McCormick said, "We’re getting it as soon as we can."

Army medical officials said they were told they would receive the vaccine in late October or November.

Defense Department officials could not be reached on Friday about the status of vaccine distribution.

McCormick said that unlike the seasonal influenza vaccine, the H1N1 vaccine is expected to arrive initially in limited supplies. If so, deploying troops and those identified as high risk by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention likely would be first to get the vaccine, she said.

Those high-risk groups include pregnant women, health care workers and emergency first responders, caregivers for children younger than 6 months of age, all people ages 6 months through 24 years, and people 25 to 64 who have health conditions that put them at high risk of developing medical complications from influenza.

Most flu-like symptoms seen so far this fall among DOD personnel and their families in Europe are likely due to H1N1, rather than seasonal flu, said Army Europe health officials. Seasonal flu typically runs November through March, with the peak in Europe and the United States usually in late February to early March, according to McCormick.

As of Oct. 2, there had been 301 lab-confirmed cases of H1N1 in the U.S. European Command community, with the first confirmed case back in June, according to information from U.S. Europe Regional Medical Command. That community numbers more than 230,000, according to the military.

"We’re not testing everybody," said Lt. Cmdr. Michael Cooper, epidemiologist with the U.S. Army Center for Health Promotion and Preventive Medicine Europe. "We’re leaving it up to physicians as to whom they want to test."

While the overall symptoms of seasonal flu and H1N1 are similar, the latter may include a little more diarrhea and vomiting than seasonal influenza, Cooper said.

Anyone who has had H1N1 would now have immunity from it, military health officials said, but unless the virus was confirmed by a laboratory test, protection is not guaranteed. And one would still be vulnerable to seasonal flu. If you’ve had seasonal flu, that doesn’t make you immune to H1N1.

"The seasonal flu vaccine is here," said Col. Theresa Moser, Europe Regional Medical Command director of Force Health Protection. "We’re encouraging everyone to receive the seasonal flu vaccine. You don’t want to get the double whammy of both … ." Medical officials suggest getting vaccinated for both.

Who is most at risk for swine flu?

Health officials in Europe will distribute the first doses of H1N1 vaccine that arrive to at-risk groups such as:

author picture
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.

Sign Up for Daily Headlines

Sign up to receive a daily email of today's top military news stories from Stars and Stripes and top news outlets from around the world.

Sign Up Now