The month of August has been designated as National Immunization & Influenza Vaccination Awareness Month. It is critically important that every Soldier, Family member, DA Civilian and health beneficiary receive all required immunizations and obtain their influenza vaccinations to ensure the Army is a healthy and mission ready force.

Immunizations are really the best protection against disease and have saved more lives than any other medical measure in history. According to Col. Richard Looney, Director of the Army's Military Vaccination (MILVAX) Program, "Immunizations have prevented approximately 42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease over the past decade." He added, "Those preventive efforts have also saved billions of dollars in related healthcare costs and total societal costs. Morbidity from vaccine-preventable diseases has fallen 90 percent or more for most diseases since the 20th century."

A majority of disease outbreaks in the U.S. occur in unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated populations. Measles made a comeback in the U.S. partly because unvaccinated people traveled to Europe, contracted the disease and returned home. Incidence of pertussis (whooping cough) have increased largely due to vaccination coverage rates going down, resulting in a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) that everyone receive one lifetime booster dose of a pertussis-containing vaccine. Other vaccine-preventable diseases include polio, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, meningococcal disease, pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, human papillomavirus, shingles, and Haemophilus influenza B (hib).

The dominant strain of influenza during the upcoming flu season is still expected to be the H1N1 strain from the 2009 pandemic. Looney said, "H1N1 is still circulating, but due to outstanding efforts and immunization campaigns of the past few years, people are more aware and likely to be adequately protected during the height of flu season." He went on to say, "Influenza immunization rates have gone up every year, and there's no reason to expect they won't go up again during the 2012-13 season."

"Immunization is the very best protection against disease and related complications. Vaccines are safe and effective, and have saved more lives than any other medical measure in history," he added.

A common misconception is that vaccinations are just for kids. Everyone over the age of six months should receive a seasonal flu shot every year. Infection from influenza viruses can result in illness ranging from mild to severe and may cause life-threatening complications. However, there are certain groups that should not receive the vaccination. For instance, persons with altered immune competence are at high risk for influenza infections and should be vaccinated with trivalent inactivated influenza virus vaccine (TIV). Live virus vaccines are contraindicated and should be postponed until after chemotherapy or long-term high-dose steroid therapy has ended. Similarly, if a person has had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, another dose is not recommended. However, a person with a mild, common illness, such as a cold with a low-grade fever, does not have to wait to be vaccinated.

Some people should not be vaccinated against the flu without first consulting a physician. These include:
• People with severe allergies to chicken eggs
• People who have previously had a severe reaction to influenza vaccination
• People with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome
• Children younger than six months of age
• People who are acutely ill with a fever

Certain people are at a higher risk for flu complications and vaccination is especially important to decrease their risk of severe illness. These include:
• Pregnant women
• Children younger than five and especially children under two
• People 65 years of age and older
• American Indians and Alaskan Natives
• People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions
• People who are morbidly obese
• People who live in nursing homes

Flu vaccinations are also available at no cost to beneficiaries from any TRICARE-authorized provider or at any participating pharmacies. To find a participating pharmacy, call 1-877-363-1303 or go to