FORT DETRICK, Md. — As the annual flu season ramps up, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency is hard at work distributing more than 1.5 million doses of vaccine to protect the fighting force, their Families and retirees.
The Army’s allotment of the yearly influenza vaccine makes up nearly half of the 3.3 million doses currently being distributed throughout the Department of Defense, according to Liz Andrews, deputy director of USAMMA’s Distribution Operations Center, or DOC.
USAMMA’s DOC oversees the annual distribution process for active-duty and reserve Soldiers, as well as Department of Army Civilians and Family members. The organization works closely with other DOD agencies to ensure prompt delivery and availability each year.
“This season is going really well,” Andrews said. “We are ahead of schedule compared to the last four years. Early requirement gathering and early solicitation from the Defense Logistics Agency has enabled this season to be a success.”
USAMMA is a direct reporting unit to Army Medical Logistics Command. Both units are headquartered at Fort Detrick, Maryland.
While seasonal influenza viruses can circulate year-round, they typically begin increasing in October before peaking between December and February in the U.S., according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. However, significant flu activity can last as late as May.
Clinicians recommend getting a flu shot every year, and especially now during the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The most effective way to protect yourself from both influenza and COVID-19 is to get vaccinated against both viruses, according to the World Health Organization.
Flu season was less significant in 2020 due to several reasons, including that many people more often wore masks when out in public, practiced physical distancing, frequently washed hands or simply stayed home in an effort to protect against possible COVID-19 infection.
“This year’s season is expected to be much higher due to more people traveling again,” said Lt. Col. Todd Reeder, pharmacy consultant and director of the DOC. “People should still continue to wear their mask as they are effective in preventing the spread of droplets from a sneeze or cough.”
In addition to handwashing and continued physical distancing when possible, Reeder said an annual flu shot continues to be the best preventative measure against the flu virus.
The first doses of this season’s flu vaccine began shipping out in late August, destined for priority sites outside the continental United States, Andrews said.
Some of the abroad shipments go to DOD’s theater lead agents for medical materiel, also known as TLAMMs, which then further carry out distribution to beneficiaries around the globe.
AMLC’s two other direct-reporting units — U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Europe in Germany and U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Korea in South Korea — serve as major distribution hubs for their respective theaters.
Supporting beneficiaries throughout U.S. European Command and U.S. African Command, USAMMC-E is the conduit for about 122,000 doses this season.
USAMMC-E shipments began Sept. 8.
“We receive the EUCOM and ARICOM flu shot allotments and distribute according to customer requirements,” said Maj. Todd Schwarz, chief of the Pharmacy and Lab Division at USAMMC-E. “We also receive, repackage and ship to Navy customers and [the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center-Southwest Asia].”
On the Korean Peninsula, USAMMC-K is distributing 62,000 doses in total. As of Sept. 7, USAMMC-K had received an initial shipment of 19,250 via the DOC with additional shipments expected through November.
“We have begun distribution across the peninsula, providing the vaccine to Army and Air Force medical treatment facilities, as well as to the U.S. Embassy,” said Capt. Daniel Miller, materiel management and accountability officer at USAMMC-K.
Flu shots ‘extremely important’
Miller stressed the importance for Soldiers, families and other beneficiaries to get their yearly flu shot as a protection measure for the forward-operating force.
“The ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, along with the recent surge in cases, makes it extremely important to get your flu vaccination,” he said.
Even though last year was particularly mild when it came to flu, Miller urged everyone to be more vigilant this season.
“Last year, the U.S. saw a record low number of flu cases,” he said. “With children back in schools and more of society working on returning to normal, there is a high probability we will see a lot more flu cases this year.”