Vaccination is the best defense against the flu

by Wesley P. Elliott
Health.mil

SAN ANTONIO – The recent Influenza Awareness Week, Dec. 2-8 educates military personnel about the potential impacts of influenza, or the flu, on the Department of Defense mission and Force Health Protection Readiness.

Army Col. Tammy K. Mayer, Consultant for Army Public Health Nursing and Health Promotion for the U.S. Army Surgeon General said, ”The more that the community knows about flu prevention the better. Stopping the spread of influenza allows us to stay healthy and avoid missing school or work. We are fortunate to have a vaccine to help us in the fight against this deadly disease.”

Vaccination is the primary method for preventing influenza and its complications and getting an annual influenza vaccine is the best way to protect yourself and your family from the flu.

Vaccination is needed every year because the Influenza viruses change every few years and scientists continue to monitor which viruses are circulating, and change the ingredients in influenza vaccines to match them.

How well the influenza vaccine works (or its ability to prevent influenza illness) can range widely from season to season. The vaccine’s effectiveness also can vary depending on who is being vaccinated.

The two main factors in the effectiveness of the vaccine is the health of the patient and the match between the influenza viruses that the influenza vaccine is designed to protect against and the influenza viruses spreading in the community.

“Each year, the flu vaccine must be reformulated to ensure it is effective. It’s a complex process and can take several months to research and then manufacture the vaccine. Currently there is research underway to develop a universal flu vaccine that provides improved protection against more subtypes of the virus. It may also eliminate the need to get a flu shot every year. There is also ongoing research to reduce the time to manufacture and develop the vaccine from months to weeks,” said Mayer.

“The Army takes flu prevention seriously because of the potential impact of an outbreak on individual and unit readiness. The vaccine is mandatory for service members and strongly encouraged for all other beneficiaries. Most people can recover from the flu by staying home and resting. This also helps to stop the spread of flu” said Mayer.

Patients without access to a military treatment facility can get the influenza vaccine from a participating retail network pharmacy or their health care provider. Active Duty Service members should follow their service policy for getting vaccinated and making sure it’s recorded.

Annual influenza vaccination is mandatory for civilian healthcare personnel who provide direct patient care and highly recommended for all other hospital employees who work in DoD facilities.

Pregnant women are at an increased risk for severe illness and complications if infected with the influenza virus. The Centers for Disease Control recommends that pregnant women with continued concerns or questions about the influenza vaccination should discuss these with their healthcare provider in order to make an informed decision regarding vaccination.

For those who feel the vaccine may make them sick, Mayer recommends understanding their concerns.

“Everyone who presents for a flu shot will be screened to make sure it’s safe for them to receive the vaccine. I try to help people understand the science behind vaccine development and how the body develops immunity. I also share that there are many other precautions in stopping the spread of the flu and other illnesses, including good washing, cough etiquette, and staying home when you are sick,” said Mayer.

Like any medication, vaccines can cause side effects. The most common side effects are mild and resolve on their own within 24-48 hours. More serious adverse events are rare. Some children should not get certain vaccines for medical reasons, while others should receive more vaccines due to high-risk medical conditions.

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