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Defense Department to start H1N1 flu vaccinations

All military personnel will be vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus, and the vaccine will be available to all military family members who want it, a Defense Department health affairs official said Sept. 2 here. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

All military personnel will be vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus, and the vaccine will be available to all military family members who want it, a Defense Department health affairs official said Sept. 2 here. (U.S. Air Force graphic)

WASHINGTON -- All military personnel will be vaccinated against the H1N1 flu virus, and the vaccine will be available to all military family members who want it, a Defense Department health affairs official said Sept. 2 here.

The H1N1 vaccination program will begin in early October, said Army Lt. Col. (Dr.) Wayne Hachey, the director of preventive medicine for Defense Department health affairs.

The vaccine, which has been licensed by the Food and Drug Administration, will be mandatory for uniformed personnel, the colonel said.

"What we want to do is target those people who are at highest risk for transmission," he said.

Health-care workers, deploying troops, those serving on ships and submarines, and new accessions are at the top of the list.

"Any place where we take a lot of people, squash them all together and get them nice and close and put them under stressful conditions will get the vaccine first," he said.

DOD officials will use the usual seasonal flu vaccine distribution chain for the H1N1, Doctor Hachey said, noting that while the mass H1N1 vaccinations are new to the general population, the process for vaccinating against seasonal flu is old hat for DOD.

"We've been doing this for decades," the colonel said. "The system is tried and true."

DOD initially will receive 1 million doses of the H1N1 vaccine, and another 1.7 million doses later in October.

Officials don't know yet whether people will need one dose or two, Doctor Hachey said.

"The assumption right now is that people will need two doses, 21 days apart," he said. "That may change."

FDA officials still are studying H1N1 and the vaccine, and the results should be known by the end of the month.

Seasonal flu vaccine already is available, and DOD officials will begin giving those shots shortly, Doctor Hachey said.

"That has been our message to immunizers: to try and get as many people as they can immunized against the seasonal flu early," he said.

Guidelines for giving priority to family members will follow those for the general population, Doctor Hachey said. The Department of Health and Human Services is buying millions of doses of the vaccine.

"Installations are going to register with each state as an immunizer," Doctor Hachey said. "They will tell how many people they care for. This includes dependents, retirees and so on."

The Centers for Disease Control staff will place the order and will ship the vaccine where needed. Family members will have multiple opportunities to get the vaccine, whether at DOD medical facilities or off post, Doctor Hachey said.

The CDC has established target groups for those at greatest risk for transmitting or being affected by the H1N1. They include pregnant women, health-care workers, those younger than 25 or older than 65, and those with pre-existing health conditions.

Doctor Hachey said previous plans are serving DOD well.

"We have been preparing for pandemic flu because of its potential impact on the mission," he said.

The symptoms of the H1N1 flu are almost the same as the seasonal flu: fever, sore throat, runny nose, nausea, muscle aches and feeling rundown. The 2009 H1N1 virus -- formerly known as swine flu -- is a pandemic virus, according to the World Health Organization. U.S. officials call the virus "troubling" and urge communities across the United States to take actions to mitigate the effects of it. The federal government is urging states and municipalities to begin preparing now for the fall flu season.

President Barack Obama addressed the H1N1 pandemic following a White House meeting Sept. 1.

"As I said when we saw the first cases of this virus back in the spring, I don't want anybody to be alarmed, but I do want everybody to be prepared," he said. "We know that we usually get a second, larger wave of these flu viruses in the fall, and so response plans have been put in place across all levels of government."

But government cannot do it all, and the American people have a responsibility to stop the spread of the disease, President Obama said. "We need families and businesses to ensure that they have plans in place if a family member, a child or a co-worker contracts the flu and needs to stay home. And most importantly, we need everyone to get informed about individual risk factors, and we need everyone to take the common-sense steps that we know can make a difference. Stay home if you're sick. Wash your hands frequently. Cover your sneezes with your sleeve, not your hands. And take all the necessary precautions to stay healthy. I know it sounds simple, but it's important and it works."

The H1N1 is a never-before-seen combination of human, swine and avian flu viruses, officials said. First detected in Mexico in February, it quickly spread around the world. According to July WHO statistics, there have been 94,512 H1N1 cases worldwide, and 429 people have died from it. In the United States, 33,902 contracted H1N1, and 170 have died.