HONOLULU -- Installations around the island will hold a mass flu vaccination exercise, Sept. 18-20, with the goal of vaccinating as many Oahu-based active duty service members and emergency-essential civilians as possible.

"Each year in the United States, approximately 25 million cases of influenza get reported," explained Lance Golder, analyst, Military Vaccine Agency. "These cases result in about 150,000 hospitalizations due to serious complications and over 30,000 people die from influenza annually in the U.S. alone. The seasonal influenza vaccine is one of the most beneficial tools in modern medicine for reducing sicknesses, deaths, health care costs and conserving fighting strength."

Getting service members and critical civilians vaccinated in a 72-hour window isn't just beneficial for public health. Exercises help improve readiness and strengthen the ability to recover after a disaster or public health emergency.

"Following a catastrophic health event, the ability to dispense medical countermeasures to affected populations quickly and efficiently is crucial," explained Thomas Bookman, emergency operations manager, Pacific Regional Medical Command and Tripler Army Medical Center.

The mass vaccination exercise is using a closed point of dispensing system, or PODs, which is different than traditional vaccination or medication dispensing sites because it brings the vaccine to where Soldiers and emergency-essential civilians are.

"This plan is ideal for federal agencies because our employees can receive medications or vaccinations on site. It also allows for a more rapid dispensing of vaccinations and helps to ensure continuity of government," Bookman explained. "PODs assist public health authorities in meeting mass prophylaxis challenges during an emergency. "

The flu vaccine isn't important for just service members and emergency-essential civilians -- everyone in Hawaii should consider getting vaccinated and take precautionary measures to avoid spreading the flu.

"The influenza vaccine is particularly important for everyone living in Hawaii because we see influenza cases all year around," Golder said. "It is important to remember that Hawaii is a gateway to the world. We have travelers arriving from both hemispheres where their peak influenza season may be in full bloom."

Vaccines will be available to all Tricare beneficiaries at military medical treatment facilities in Hawaii starting Sept. 21. Vaccines will be available at post exchanges throughout October and local schools in October and November.

Across the island, active duty service members and emergency-essential civilians on all military bases will hold similar mass vaccination exercises. Drivers may experience traffic delays or reduced parking around mass vaccination sites. Patients visiting clinics on post may experience longer waiting times due to reduced medical personnel.

"Participating in this mass vaccination exercise will implement the POD concept and test our teamwork, processes and capability to quickly vaccinate a large amount of people is short period of time," Bookman said. "More importantly, it will allow us to validate our plan. When this exercise is all said and done, we ultimately expect it to enhance our medical readiness."

Page last updated Mon September 10th, 2012 at 18:02