FORT RUCKER, Ala. -- August is a time of transition for many in the Wiregrass region as children prepare to go back to school or go to college, and also as medical professionals prepare for flu season.

This month is also National Immunization Awareness Month, and Lyster Army Health Clinic officials said this is a good time for people to make plans for updating immunization shots or for parents to make appointments to get their children vaccinated.

“Prevention is really the most important part of fighting disease,” said Lt. Col. Andrew Powell, Nursing and Patient Support Services deputy commander. “It’s vital not just to health, but in the case of the Army, to the mission.”

Soldiers are required to have a longer list of vaccines than other Americans because of the frequency and distance they may travel, due to potential deployments. This means they, and their Families, will probably have more immunization treatments than others, Powell added.

Some immunizations are only given at certain points during a person’s life, such as measles, mumps and rubella and Hepatitis A and B. Others, like the influenza vaccine, should be taken annually, said Carolyn Peterson, Lyster Allergy and Immunology licensed practical nurse.

“The flu can be very dangerous for people with weaker immune systems, like the elderly or the very young,” she said. “If left untreated it could become pneumonia, which can be fatal.”

While it’s not flu season yet, it’s not far off, said Powell.

“We’ll let Soldiers and Families know once it gets closer, but they should always remain vigilant and be prepared for the upcoming season,” he added. “There are some antiviral treatments for the flu, but the best course of action is prevention.”

Powell also addressed the still-persistent rumors that vaccinations have lead to diseases like autism in children as a result of mercury content in certain vaccines.

“There have been a number of studies that show there are no increases of cases of autism in children who’ve been vaccinated,” he said. “There was a concern about vaccines that contained the preservative thimerosal, a mercury-containing product. But, there’s more mercury in a can of tuna than in any of these vaccines. We do have thimerosal-free flu vaccines for young children and pregnant women, for those who want it.”

Powell said the childhood vaccines do not have thimerosal in them now. According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention website, it was removed from all childhood vaccines in 2001.

The CDC website also notes that no link between autism and thimerosal has ever been found.

“People sort of think of vaccines as not being very important, but these diseases have killed thousands upon thousands of children throughout history,” Powell said. “Vaccination has been one of the most successful medical breakthroughs to increase public health and extend life.”

Page last updated Thu August 11th, 2011 at 00:00