Flu vaccinations start for military
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FORT RUCKER, Ala. (October 24, 2013) -- Lyster Army Health Clinic kicked off the influenza vaccination season Oct. 18 with a visit to the U.S. Army Aviation Center of Excellence and Fort Rucker command group in Bldg. 101.

Maj. Gen. Kevin W. Mangum, USAACE and Fort Rucker commanding general, and dozens of others were among the first to receive the immunizations as Lyster began its plan to vaccinate 90 percent of the post's military population before opening up the vaccines to Family members and retirees, said Lt. Col. Samuel Jones, Lyster's chief of preventive medicine.

The Department of Defense's operations order wants the 90-percent goal met by Dec. 1, but Jones expects to achieve it earlier, and open up the vaccinations to Family members and retirees in mid November, with one exception.

"We are opening it up to retirees at the Fort Rucker Retiree Health Fair Oct. 25," he said. "Regardless of meeting the goal or not, we will support retirees at the health fair. If they drop by and get it then, they won't have to wait. We usually get quite a few who show up for that."

An announcement will be made through the "Army Flier" and other post media to let people know when the immunizations open up to other beneficiaries.

"We'll let people know the dates and times when it's best to come get it," Jones said. "We also set up after-school vaccination clinics every year to give the flu shot. We don't want kids pulled out of school because we know they can only miss so many days."

He said people can talk to their provider if they have questions about flu immunizations, and they can also call the immunization clinic at 255-7754, adding that if no one answers, the technician is probably busy serving patients and callers should leave a message and they will receive a return call.

No notifications are necessary for active-duty military members, as their units will tell them when and where to get the immunizations. Lyster officials worked closely with units to schedule dates, times and places for Soldiers to get the flu immunizations, Jones said.

Getting immunized comes in two varieties: a needle in the arm or a spray up the nose, depending on people's ages and medical conditions.

"For the nasal spray, it's one spray up each nostril. There's no special procedure with it, and people don't have to inhale, but some people like to do that," Jones said. "The nasal one is a weakened virus, similar to the flu virus they think will be out this year.

"Some call it 'live,' but it is weakened, so it won't cause the flu, but it may give some people symptoms of what the flu is like," he added. "That is your body's response to the virus -- it knows it doesn't belong there, so it develops antibodies so it can fight it off when it comes into contact with it again.

"The injectable one -- some call it the shot -- that is a dead virus," Jones continued. "It is given to some of those people who have some type of illness or disease that puts them into a high-risk category. Again, it evokes a response in the system that says, 'Hey, if you see anything like this again, you're supposed to come out and kill it."

When people report to get their immunization, they will fill out a worksheet that will lead the technician to a decision on which form the person will receive, Jones said. The nasal spray is generally for those 49 and younger, while those 50 and older receive the shot.

People aren't allowed to choose since Lyster officials use the current year's numbers to more accurately project how many of each type to order the following year, Jones said.

Although the immunization is mandatory for military and health care providers who don't have a condition that prevents them from receiving it, it is not demanded of Family members and retirees. But it is highly encouraged that people protect themselves and those around them by getting it, Jones said.

"If they look at the data, like on the CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) website, there are about 30,000 deaths from influenza every year, on average, and about 150k hospitalizations due to serious complications from getting flu," he said. "So, it's things like that we try to avoid. Also, if not for yourself, think about those who can't get it -- the youngest who can receive the flu shot is 6 months and many people older than 65 can't get it because of medical conditions. If you don't get the immunization, you might give the flu to that individual -- you could be the reason they get hospitalized or pass away."

And, despite the assertions of some, flu immunizations won't make you sick, Jones said, adding that it takes about two weeks for a person's body to build the anti-bodies necessary to fight the flu.

"Typically, some people can come into contact with someone who has the flu while the body is still developing those antibodies, but they will attribute getting the flu from the flu shot," he said. "Or, they picked it up before they received the vaccination and didn't know it, and had no symptoms, but then got it after they were vaccinated and say, 'It's the flu shot -- it gave me the flu!' That's not the case."

Flu immunization or no flu immunization, everyone should also take certain precautions, Jones said.

"Wash your hands," he said. "Be cognitive of the things that you touch, because if you don't wash your hands after touching things, then germs are spread. People may cough in their hands, and then touch a doorknob or a keyboard, and then you touch it and touch your eyes or mouth, and then you pick up the germs."

He also advised people to use anti-bacterial hand sanitizer when soap and water aren't available, and also for people who are sick to "stay home, and see a provider if you run a temperature that lasts more than 24-48 hours. That way, if you have something else going on, it's caught early and they can take care of you appropriately."

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