SAN ANTONIO -- August is the month of the dog days of summer. It's usually a hot, sultry month and the thought of winter is usually far from one's mind. Many service members are running around, fitting the last of fun summer activities into a busy summer calendar. August is also when parents start working on their back-to-school shopping; ensuring everyone has their flu shot is not usually at the top of the to-do list. However, take heed.

The Department of Defense recognizes August as Immunization and Influenza Awareness Month to ensure all military personnel and their families receive their annual influenza vaccinations and are up-to-date on their immunizations.

"Receiving all recommended immunizations, including seasonal influenza vaccine, helps to protect both oneself and others from a number of potentially-devastating, preventable diseases," said Lt. Col. Michele Soltis, MD, preventive medicine physician within the Office of the Deputy Chief of Staff for Public Health.

"Immunizations help to ensure that neither the service member, nor others in the service member's unit, become sick, permanently disabled, or even die due to vaccine-preventable illnesses," doctor Soltis said. "Immunizations greatly contribute to the protection of the health, safety, and well-being of service members and help to ensure units can remain ready and focused on accomplishing the mission at hand."

Immunization programs are one of the top public health achievements of the 20th century. Routine immunization leads to drastic reductions in the prevalence of common diseases, and immunizations have led to the global eradication of smallpox and elimination of polio in the U.S.

However, due to ease of international travel and vaccine hesitancy, some vaccine-preventable diseases such as measles still cause outbreaks. Receiving available immunizations helps to not only protect oneself from a given disease, but helps to eliminate that disease from the population and protect others as well.

Soltis said continued immunization ensures that devastating illnesses, like polio and diphtheria, remain very rare in the United States. If immunization rates against such terrible diseases decline, the protection offered by vaccines will steadily decrease, many more persons may become infected with once-rare diseases, and those infected persons may spread those diseases to others. Many persons may become sick, permanently disabled, or even die due to illnesses once able to be prevented by vaccines.

As for getting the flu shot, Soltis says it's important to get those each year -- the flu is a serious illness that may require hospitalization and can even sometimes lead to death.

"Millions of people, even healthy people, contract influenza each year, while hundreds of thousands of those infected are hospitalized and thousands may die from related causes," she said. "Annual influenza immunization reduces the risk of influenza infection, hospitalization, and death. Immunization may help to decrease the severity of illness for those that become infected despite receiving flu vaccine and stop the spread of influenza to others in the community."

"Because one's immune response from previous vaccination wanes over time and because the formulation of the influenza vaccine is reviewed and updated each year to protect against changing influenza viruses, persons aged 6 months and older should receive the influenza vaccine each year," added Soltis.

For more information about influenza and ways to protect yourself, visit: http://www.health.mil/flu.

For more information about immunization schedules, visit:
https://health.mil/Military-Health-Topics/Health-Readiness/Immunization-Healthcare/Vaccine-Recommendations/Vaccine-Schedules