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Don’t give flu a fighting chance; get the flu shot

Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Gerich Curtom (left), administers a flu shot to Builder 2nd Class Charles Scheck at Naval Air Station North Island’s medical clinic. There are many different strains of flu virus, and they can often mutate quickly, presenting a challenge in keeping everyone healthy and maintaining optimal immunity, and making it necessary to get immunized annually. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean P. Lenahan) Navy Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Gerich Curtom (left), administers a flu shot to Builder 2nd Class Charles Scheck at Naval Air Station North Island’s medical clinic. There are many different strains of flu virus, and they can often mutate quickly, presenting a challenge in keeping everyone healthy and maintaining optimal immunity, and making it necessary to get immunized annually. (U.S. Navy photo by Mass Communication Specialist 1st Class Sean P. Lenahan)

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Influenza presents a novel disease threat almost every year, and annual immunization continues to be the best way to avoid that threat.

There are many different strains of flu virus, and they can often mutate quickly, presenting a challenge in keeping everyone healthy and maintaining optimal immunity, and making it necessary to get immunized annually.

The three vaccines contracted by the Department of Defense for the 2017-18 season are quadrivalent, meaning they will contain four flu strains recommended by the World Health Organization, said U.S. Air Force Col. Tonya Rans, Chief, Defense Health Agency Immunization Healthcare Branch.

“Through influenza immunization, an individual’s immune system may better defend against natural exposure to influenza disease,” Rans said. “Influenza can cause serious illness, especially among seniors, infants, and others with medical conditions such as asthma.”

The recommendation for pregnant women to be immunized is unchanged despite a recent journal article that found an association between doses of a certain flu vaccine and the risk of miscarriage in early pregnancy.

“The CDC and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology have reviewed the article and still recommend annual flu vaccination for pregnant women during any trimester,” Rans said. “Another study is underway to better investigate their findings. We encourage those who have concerns about this study, influenza vaccine, or any other vaccine, to consult with their physician for individual clinical decisions.”

As with last year’s flu season, the intranasal vaccine known as FluMist will not be available in DoD due to questions about its effectiveness in preventing influenza among certain age groups. FluMist is not recommended by the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices, and will not count toward military members’ readiness requirement. While DoD’s vaccine supply is all quadrivalent for the 2017-18 season, immunization with a licensed trivalent vaccine will still meet readiness requirements.

DoD’s goal is to have 90 percent of the total force immunized by December 15. Active duty personnel should have already started receiving notifications that they’re due for an annual flu shot.

A significant change in this year’s vaccine supply is that the dose of one of the two FDA-approved pediatric influenza vaccines, FluLaval Quadrivalent, is 0.5 mL, while Fluzone Quadrivalent is 0.25 mL. In a study comparing the two vaccines, safety and side effects were similar. To minimize human error, as there are two different doses which can be given, depending on the vaccine used, Rans recommends parents ensure they verify the dose and brand their child is receiving prior to injection. If it is a child’s first time receiving flu vaccine, they should still get two doses separated by 28 days, regardless of the vaccine they receive.

There are also two flu vaccines licensed specifically for people 65 years and older. One uses an adjuvant, a substance that aids and enhances immune response to the vaccine, and the other is a high-dose vaccine, containing four times more antigen than other flu vaccines.

“It is very important for older adults to get vaccinated because the immune system weakens with age, and they are at higher risk for severe complications from flu,” said U.S. Air Force Lt. Col. Heather Halvorson, Deputy Chief, IHB. “Currently the ACIP does not recommend any specific vaccine for older adults – any age-appropriate vaccine is acceptable. Getting vaccinated is the most important thing.”

Since DoD’s vaccine supply is entirely injectable, the CDC recommends the following steps to ease the fear of needles and pain associated with the injection process:

  • Have the patient lie down is there is a fainting concern.
  • Breastfeeding, swaddling or use of sweet-tasting solutions for infants up to 12 months old.
  • Changes to injection technique (aspiration or slower injection).
  • Injecting the most painful vaccine last (if administering multiple vaccines simultaneously).
  • Stimulating the skin near the injection site prior to and during the vaccination.
  • Distraction.
  • Simultaneous administration of vaccines at separate injection sites.

For information about coverage of influenza immunizations, please visit TRICARE’s website or call TRICARE Customer Service at 877-363-1303.

To speak with a healthcare provider or for counseling before or after immunization, call the Worldwide DHA Immunization Healthcare Support Center at 877-GETVACC (438-8222), Option 1.

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