Mass flu exercise brings services together
September 27, 2012
HONOLULU -- Installations around the island held 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.
In previous years, each service would individually hold shot exercises where they would immunize their personnel. This year, all services coordinated together and held a mass joint immunization exercise.
"We wanted to test our capability to mass immunize against a potential pandemic," explained Lance Golder, analyst, Military Vaccine Agency.
During the 72-hour exercise, more than 21,000 Department of Defense uniformed and civilian personnel were vaccinated across the island.
"Vaccinating over 21,000 people in three days is no small feat," Golder said. "(We) did it at 12 different locations with multi-service staff both working and getting vaccinated. One of the comments I heard over and over as I visited (the) sites is that (the personnel) could immunize at least double the numbers with little effort."
The mass vaccination exercise used 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.
"The (point of distribution) layout at the Makai Recreation Center has been designed to accommodate approximately a 10-minute processing time for units consisting of 200 personnel," said U.S. Air Force Staff Sgt. Aimee Braxton, noncommissioned officer-in-charge, Hickam Immunizations clinic and Joint Vaccine Working Group representative.
"Following a catastrophic health event, the ability to dispense medical countermeasures to affected populations quickly and efficiently is crucial," added Thomas Bookman, emergency operations manager, Pacific Regional Medical Command and Tripler Army Medical Center.
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.
"Each year in the U.S., approximately 25 million cases of influenza get reported," Golder explained "These cases result in about 150,000 hospitalizations due to serious complications and more than 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."
"The influenza vaccine is particularly important for everyone living in Hawaii because we see influenza cases all year around," Golder explained. "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 are now available to all Tricare beneficiaries at military medical treatment facilities in Hawaii. Vaccines will be available at post exchanges throughout October and local schools in October and November.
(Editor's note: U.S. Air Force 1st Lt. Kathleen Eisenbrey, 15th Medical Group, contributed to this article.)