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Vaccine key to prevent flu, given to priority patients

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The intranasal influenza vaccine is kept in a refrigerated storage unit until distribution to patients from October through March.  The intranasal vaccine was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 8 and remains an alternate method of distributing the vaccine for ages 5 through 49. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Adam Guy)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- The intranasal influenza vaccine is kept in a refrigerated storage unit until distribution to patients from October through March. The intranasal vaccine was first approved by the Food and Drug Administration on Jan. 8 and remains an alternate method of distributing the vaccine for ages 5 through 49. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Adam Guy)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech. Sgt. Jesus Antillon gives preparation instructions before he gives the intranasal influenza vaccine to a patient at the immunization clinic on Nov. 13.  The 30th Medical Group pediatrics NCOIC gives the vaccine as an annual requirement for all active duty members to combat the potential of catching the influenza virus. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Adam Guy)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Tech. Sgt. Jesus Antillon gives preparation instructions before he gives the intranasal influenza vaccine to a patient at the immunization clinic on Nov. 13. The 30th Medical Group pediatrics NCOIC gives the vaccine as an annual requirement for all active duty members to combat the potential of catching the influenza virus. (U.S. Air Force photo/Airman 1st Class Adam Guy)

VANDENBERG AIR FORCE BASE, Calif. -- Vandenberg's immunization clinic offers vaccinations for the seasonal virus influenza. But vaccine doses are in limited supply this month, so the clinic has a plan.

In the clinic waiting room, several people wait for the immunization NCOIC to call their names. Some are getting ready for deployment, and need vaccinations before they leave. Others are maintaining their shot records. Civilian spouses and their children also wait to be seen.

Though they wait for different reasons, whether or not they will receive the vaccine during their visit depends on their priority.

"As far as walk-ins are concerned, we want to give priority to the people who compose the high priority category," Staff Sgt. Shareef Cardwell said over the loud hum of two industrial refrigerators. One machine chills a small stockpile of intranasal flu mist applicators.

"The mist is the vaccine of choice for all active duty," the immunization NCOIC said. "That is all we will offer unless it goes against sound medical advice. The shot will only be provided to those that cannot have the mist for medical reasons." 

On Vandenberg, the injection is available for all 6-months to 17-years old.  Any active duty between the ages of 17 and 49 would get the nasal spray, while certain restrictions apply, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

"The DoD priority is to give nasal spray because it provides a higher level of protection as it prevents the same strains of flu virus, resulting in less loss of work hours due to being out sick or hospitalized. Airmen can carry out the mission better because they need less medical visits," Sergeant Shareef said.  One in three Americans get the flu every year resulting in 25 million physician visits, he said.

Low quantities of vaccines force the clinic to discourage walk-in vaccinations.  While not enough vaccines have been made available to vaccinate everyone on base, the mist was given as a priority for Airmen living in communal living situations like the multiple people per room like in the 381st Training Group, first responders who provide essential community services, or those getting ready to leave station like deployers, people going on temporary duty or changing station.

As part of her permanent change of station out-processing, Staff Sgt. Bianca Nuno checked into the immunization clinic for an Anthrax vaccine. She also received a bonus - the nasal spray. After two sprays, the procedure is done.

"It's like when you're swimming and some water gets in your nose," the 18th Intelligence Squadron signals analyst said with a sniff. "It goes away quick."

Tech. Sgt Jesus Antillion called the next patient to the examination room. He washed his hands and handed a tissue to Staff Sgt. Noah Bugg, and asked him if he has any allergies before he got the intranasal flu mist. People who have egg allergies must tell their technician, because eggs are used to make both the mist and injection immunizations.

"Tilt your head back," the pediatric clinic NCOIC said and delivered the two sprays. Sergeant Bugg appeared unfazed, and he compared the feeling to a nasal decongestant.

"It's not even as bad," he said. "The nose gets a little runny, that's all."

Before his patient left, Sergeant Antillion let Sergeant Bugg know about the vaccine's possible side effects.

"You may develop flu like symptoms, cough, sore throat," Sergeant Antillion said. While these symptoms may be a mild discomfort, it would be a small price to pay compared to coming down sick sometime during the flu season in that is expected to hit hardest in January and February and end in March.