By by Darrell D. AmesApril 6, 2012
FORT SHAFTER, Hawaii -- Continuing the practice of distributing excess influenza vaccine to our Pacific partners emphasizes the part of Joint Task Force Homeland Defense's (JTF-HD) mission statement that discusses 'responding to all hazards to mitigate human suffering.' "We work with our Joint Operations Area partners to indentify the vaccine requirements and then coordinate with agencies such as Hawaiian Airlines and the United States Coast Guard to make the delivery happen," said Michelle Garcia, JTF-HD Interagency Coordinator.
The U.S. Army Medical Command obtains the excess Department of Defense (DoD) influenza vaccine, in pre-filled syringes, nationwide before it is shipped to Tripler Army Medical Center in Hawaii for receiving, repackaging, and eventually shipping to the JOA partners. "This is always a great experience for me," said George Kaanana, cargo sales manager for Hawaiian Airlines. "The good folks at Army medicine and JTF-HD recognize the need is always there and they act upon it. I'm very proud to work with these people," added Kaanana.
The program, referred to as the 'United States/Pacific Islands (US/PI) Vaccine Program', originated during the 2006-2007 flu season in the U.S. Commonwealth of the Northern Marianas Islands when JTF-HD discovered that many of their pacific partners would benefit from additional vaccine. This year's shipments total $86,000 and are being delivered to American Samoa [Hawaiian Airlines]; and to Guam, Saipan, Kosrae and Majuro [USCG]. The vaccine, primarily designed for children six to 35 months of age, originates from various Army installations in the United States. "This is a very positive 'feel good' experience," said Daniel Copp, JTF-HD medical planner. "There is always a great need for the vaccine in our JOA and DoD has excess every year so we feel good about sending them where the need exists," Copp said.
Deliveries began March 13th and will continue through April to the various locations. Hawaiian Airlines has and continues to provide the transportation at no cost. "It gives us a great feeling and it's an honor to be involved with this great opportunity," said Kaanana. The Defense Logistics Agency also got in the act by donating temperature tales, temperature gauges that identify if the vaccine is kept at an appropriate temperature throughout the journey. These items are valued at over $5,000. "This collaborative effort is expected to benefit over 10,000 Pacific Islanders over millions of square miles," said Garcia. In fact, since the beginning of the program there has only been one season (2008-2009) when the pacific partners did not request additional doses.
"The flu season in the United States generally runs from October through May," said Mel Garcia, JTF-HD deputy J-3. "By February DoD generally knows how much excess flu vaccine is available and is able to deliver by the end of March through early April. That gives our partners almost three months to administer the vaccine before its expiration date," Garcia said. The pacific islands do not have a set flu season so the benefits of the flu vaccine are wide-sweeping and can be utilized year round. In the U.S. alone, seasonal influenza kills approximately 36,000 Americans on average each year. The victims are primarily infants and the elderly.
"This enables Pacific Islanders to be immunized against influenza, which is a year-round disease in the tropics," said Copp. Receiving the flu shot protects not only the recipient, but also all those people who work closely or live with the vaccine recipient, extending the benefit of the vaccines beyond the actual number of doses shipped.
A majority of the vials meet the needs for the pediatric requirements, but other vaccines are included to handle older recipients as well. "The locations can adjust as needed," said Copp. "It really gives them more flexibility if they do have people 18 and older."
Headquartered at Fort Shafer, Hawaii, JTF-HD maintains situational awareness of all domains within the Joint Operations Area; executes mission command of assigned forces in the land domain to conduct Homeland Defense operations to deter and defeat threats to critical infrastructure and key resources and when requested/validated, conducts Civil Support operations in response to all hazards to mitigate human suffering and reduce infrastructure damage.