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Flu Vaccination Rates are Running High Across the Military This Year

Image of a woman giving someone an injection on the arm. Hospital Corpsman 3rd Class Kindal Kidd, from Neodesha, Kansas, assigned to USS Gerald R. Ford's (CVN 78) medical department, administers a flu shot to a sailor in the ship's hangar bay. Ford's medical department is vaccinating the entire crew against the flu virus to ensure the crew remains medically ready as the ship prepares to go out to sea. (Photo: U.S. Navy Mass Communication Specialist Seaman Apprentice Angel Thuy Jaskuloski)

Flu vaccination rates among service members are running far higher this year compared to the same period during previous years.

Its a positive sign that military health officials say could reduce the amount of illness impacting individuals and limit the strain on local hospitals and clinics that are already very busy due to the ongoing pandemic.

So far, about 64% of active-duty service members have received a flu shot. At this same time last year, the rate was 44 percent and in 2019 the rate was 52%, health officials said on Nov. 29.

"Immunization activities throughout the Military Health System are doing a great job this season getting influenza vaccine in the arms of service members, but we aren't quite to the finish line yet," says Army Lt. Col. Christopher Ellison, a doctor of pharmacy, the Defense Health Agency's operations director for the Immunization Healthcare Division; and the military lead for the Department of Defense's Influenza Vaccination Program. "We still have some service members who need to get vaccinated in order to reach the Defense Department's force-wide goal of 90% vaccinations by Jan. 15."

Several factors may be influencing the relatively high rates of flu vaccination to date.

The COVID-19 pandemic may have increased awareness about the importance of the flu vaccine, prompting some service members to get their shots early in the season. (Individuals can get their flu shot and a COVID-19 vaccination or booster shot on the same visit to a hospital or clinic).

The pace of flu vaccinations is also higher because the vaccines, which the Defense Logistics Agency (DLA) distributes to all military hospitals and clinics, arrived earlier than in previous seasons.

In 2020, large supplies of flu vaccines did not begin arriving at military health facilities until September, and it was not until December that a vast majority of the vaccines were distributed.

This year, supplies began going out in August, and more than 90% were shipped and ready for patients by October, when the flu season usually begins. (Typically, the flu season runs October-May and peaks between December-February.)

"Our military hospitals and clinics are fantastic at mobilizing flu drives when they have vaccine on hand, and DLA did an outstanding job of getting vaccine out to the military hospitals and clinics this year," Ellison said.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend everyone 6 months and older get an annual flu vaccine. But people 65 and older or with underlying conditions, pregnant women, infants, and young children are at higher risk of developing serious flu complications. It's particularly important for those populations to get their shot.

All military members are required to get an annual flu shot. Check with TRICARE for locations and dates where flu vaccines may be available for service members. For all Military Health System beneficiaries, shots are available at military medical treatment facilities (MTFs) and at military installations.

All military health system beneficiaries can use an online portal to schedule a flu shot or a COVID-19 booster shot. The portal, known as the Defense Health Agency Appointing Portal, or DAP, began supporting the vaccine efforts on Oct. 11.

More information on the flu vaccine is available here.

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