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Surgeon General's Corner: Immunization Readiness
Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson, Jr.
U.S. Navy Surgeon General

Surgeon General's Corner: Immunization Readiness

By Vice Adm. Adam M. Robinson, Jr., U.S. Navy Surgeon General 

As summer winds down and the back-to-school season begins, I’d like to focus this month’s column on immunization readiness for you, your patients, and your families.  Comprehensive immunization is not only a critical part of having a fit and ready fighting force to ensure readiness and force health protection, it’s also an essential element of family readiness and sound preventive health care.

With flu cases on the rise nationally, early flu shots, now recommended by mid-October, are the key to prevention.  This year’s flu vaccine protects against H3N2, influenza B and H1N1 strains.  They are widely available to TRICARE beneficiaries at no cost from Military Treatment Facilities, authorized providers, or any of the 50,000 participating network pharmacies.  Remember that your children’s schools will have specific required immunizations to follow. You can view CDC’s childhood immunization schedule at www.cdc.gov/vaccines/recs/schedules/child-schedule.htm .  We recommend you stay on top of all new vaccine developments and guidelines and advise your patients and their families to keep their vaccines and immunization records current, especially for more at-risk groups like service members, new mothers, infants, children, and senior citizens.   

For instance, CDC now recommends new mothers receive the Pertussis (DTaP) vaccine and that teenage girls receive the HPV vaccination.  Additionally, all new military recruits will now receive a new DoD- approved vaccine to prevent febrile respiratory illness caused by adenovirus types 4 and 7 which causes severe flu-like illness and can be transmitted easily via person-to-person in close quarters. 

Our force health protection partners in this effort are vast.  TRICARE provides age-appropriate doses of vaccines as recommended by CDC to military personnel world-wide.  The Military Vaccine Agency (MILVAX) coordinates military immunization programs through education and training like their Immunization University which trains health care workers, including at all Military Treatment Facilities.  Our Navy Medical Logistics Command tracks and orders flu vaccines for the entire Navy, then DoD FluSource works with the Defense Logistics Agency to ensure ‘just-in-time’ delivery of the flu vaccine supply chain. 

Other partners include the Armed Forces Health Surveillance Center which provides medical surveillance and reports rates of disease and injuries among service members.  There is also the Military Infectious Diseases Research Program which protects service members against naturally occurring infectious diseases via FDA-approved vaccines and EPA-approved vector control protection systems.  The Navy Marine Corps Public Health Center supports preventive medicine efforts with a clearinghouse of immunization resources available.   There is national guidance to follow including the 2009 National Health Security Strategy released by the Department of Health and Human Services, and the Center for Disease Control’s 2010 National Vaccine Plan, a ten year strategy that provides new methods to improve vaccine delivery.

Immunization readiness at home is only half our mission.  Our expeditionary preventive medicine efforts are also very important in ensuring our deployed Sailors and Marines are protected against foreign-borne viruses and other health threats.  We immunize based on the operational needs of those who deploy to hot spots around the world and the potential health threats in those regions.

Our research and development units around the world are instrumental in this mission through their robust vaccine research efforts to fight against diseases like malaria, yellow fever, tuberculosis, West Nile virus, Dengue fever, HIV/AIDS, H1N1 pandemic flu, and H5N1 or avian flu, to name just a few.  Our researchers are on the cutting edge in multiple vaccine advancements.  We work shoulder-to-shoulder with our military-medical partners, which now include Vietnam where I recently signed an historic bi-lateral agreement and Statement of Intent for military medical cooperation in a host of areas including vaccines. 

Please ensure you and your patients and your families get flu shots in the coming weeks.  Now is also the time to take a closer look at other vaccines and immunizations you and your family may require this year.  Protecting yourself and your family is an essential part of ensuring medical readiness across the Navy Medicine community and across the Fleet. 

For a full schedule of recommended vaccines, see http://www.health.mil/Content/docs/immunization_schedule_factsheet_8_11_09.pdf .   Other resources include http://www.cdc.gov, http:// www.flu.gov, http://www.vaccines.mil , and http://mhs.osd.mil/Themes/Immunization.aspx.  It is my honor to represent you as your Surgeon General.  Thank you for everything you do, but most of all, thank you for your service.

 -USN-