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U.S. Army Europe officials often say their command is “On point for the nation,” but they’re usually not referring to the tips of needles.

That is the case, however, when it comes to vaccinations over the past few months. Col. Allen Kraft, director of force health protection for USAREUR, said the command is leading the Army in the percentage of soldiers having received shots to prevent influenza. More than 91 percent of soldiers in Europe have received the shots, well above the 67 percent Army average.

“We’re still continuing our push,” Kraft said. “We’d like to get 100 percent, but that’s not always realistic.”

That’s because the computer tracking system the Army is using worldwide — MedPros — contains every name assigned to every unit across Europe.

It’s a handy tool for commanders who can use their own computers to check on the deployment status of each individual in their units. But some of those soldiers are on temporary duty elsewhere.

Others have left the command and just haven’t been deleted from the rosters. And some people, because of allergies or past problems with the shots, won’t receive them.

There’s also a short delay from the time a soldier gets a shot until the inoculation is registered in the system.

“We might be a few percentage points or several fractions of a percentage point above [91 percent],” Kraft said.

Those numbers don’t include Air Force, Navy, Marine and civilian personnel who have received shots at military clinics, which all fall under the umbrella of the Europe Regional Medical Command.

Maj. Mark Harris, chief of preventive medicine at the Army’s hospital in Heidelberg, Germany, said older civilians, in particular, should definitely consider getting the shots. Retirees and people who suffer from afflictions such as asthma and diabetes, and women in the later stages of pregnancy “are at much greater risk,” he said.

According to figures from the national Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, between 10 percent and 20 percent of the American population gets the flu each year. Of those, 114,000 are hospitalized and about 36,000 die.

“Influenza is a very underestimated disease,” Harris said.

He said getting a shot is easy. And they are free to all those who have access to military medical clinics. Personnel will look at medical records and do a quick screening to make sure that people should get the shots.

Meanwhile, many of those doing the sticking have already received inoculations of a different variety. Kraft said smallpox inoculations began in the second week of January and most of the targeted first-responders (medical personnel) around Europe have received the shots. The medical command will soon start giving shots to the second wave, “people going downrange.”

Kraft said getting the smallpox vaccination isn’t a requirement for getting deployed, though.

Medical officials say there have been no reported cases of smallpox around the world since the late 1970s. Some believe that terrorist organizations or countries may have the capability to unleash a strain of the disease during a chemical attack.

Kraft said that most Americans stationed in Europe would probably not have to receive the vaccination, although the command has plans in place to quickly vaccinate the entire population if conditions change.

Kent has filled numerous roles at Stars and Stripes including: copy editor, news editor, desk editor, reporter/photographer, web editor and overseas sports editor. Based at Aviano Air Base, Italy, he’s been TDY to countries such as Afghanistan Iraq, Kosovo and Bosnia. Born in California, he’s a 1988 graduate of Humboldt State University and has been a journalist for almost 38 years.
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