Flu vaccinations are an annual requirement for Soldiers, and the Army medical community offers the vaccine to Soldiers, as well as their family members, retirees and civilians here in the European theater.
Nearly since its inception, the U.S. military has provided vaccinations for its Soldiers. Interestingly, one of the first examples of mass immunization was the Continental Army during the Revolutionary War. In the winter of 1777, 90 percent of Continental Army deaths were caused by disease rather than battle, and of these diseases, smallpox was the most deadly.
At that time in history, there was a lot of fear in the Colonies about vaccination, to the point that the Continental Congress had passed a law forbidding Army Surgeons from inoculating members of the Continental Army. However, vaccination had become commonplace in most parts of Europe and this meant that British Regulars were much less susceptible to smallpox than their Colonial counterparts, putting our forefathers at a disadvantage.
Gen. George Washington felt that unless some action was taken, smallpox would be the downfall of the Army, and with it, the Colonies' hope for independence. With this in mind, on Feb. 5, 1777, against the orders of Congress, Washington gave the order to vaccinate the Army against smallpox. Only months later, the disease was under control and the incidence of death from smallpox had dropped from around 1 in 12 to 1 in 10,000 Soldiers. Some have argued that this decision to inoculate the Continental Army, more so than any tactical decision, was the biggest factor in winning the war for independence.
It might be easy to dismiss vaccine-preventable diseases as a thing of the past, but sadly that is not the case. Although smallpox infection is not a risk today in America, many other vaccine-preventable diseases are. The CDC reported that in 2017, 80,000 people in the United States were killed by the flu and its complications. That is double the rate of deaths due to brain cancer for the same year. Infectious diseases remain relevant and it is important to take an active role in protecting your health and the health of your families.
Immunization actually serves two functions. Not only are you protecting yourself, but you are contributing to what is called "herd immunity." The idea is simple. If more people in a population are immune to a virus or infection, it makes it much harder for the sickness to travel through that population. By participating in herd immunity, you are fighting against the spread of disease and protecting those in the population that are most vulnerable such as newborn infants, people with vaccine allergies, and the immune compromised.