Department of Defense receives first H1N1 vaccine shipments

WASHINGTON —The Defense Department has started receiving H1N1 vaccines and will begin distributing doses in the coming weeks, the American Forces Press Service reported Nov. 4.

The Health and Human Services Department is distributing the vaccines, manufactured by four producers, to the department. Because rates of production vary among the manufacturers, supplies are expected to be limited initially, but to increase over time, said Ellen P. Embrey, acting assistant secretary of defense for health affairs.

The department "is working closely with HHS to receive its full allocation of vaccine as soon as possible," Embrey said. Vaccinations are mandatory for military members, and as the quantity of doses on hand grows, officials anticipate Defense Department facilities will receive sufficient numbers to make the vaccine available to all of the department's employees and beneficiaries, she said.

Meanwhile, Defense Department officials have implemented a plan to maintain mission readiness while ensuring those at greatest risk get vaccinated as soon as possible. Vaccines first will be made available to deployed personnel, bases that receive new military accessions, such as basic training installations and the service academies, and all health-care workers assigned to military medical treatment facilities.

Department providers should balance mission requirements with guidelines laid out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in determining who should receive vaccine when supplies are limited, Embrey said.

In determining how to distribute supplies, Embrey said, military commanders, in collaboration with their medical authorities, will determine the best method to allocate the vaccine when demand exceeds supply. As more vaccine is received, it will be made available to all active-duty servicemembers, civilian employees, members of military reserve components and National Guard personnel.

Immunization for both seasonal flu and H1N1 is mandatory for all military personnel and is highly recommended for beneficiaries.

In addition to vaccines being received for operational personnel, Defense Department medical treatment facilities are receiving vaccine for family members based upon a separate allocation to each of the 50 states and the District of Columbia. Officials also have completed an agreement with HHS to provide vaccine for family members living outside the United States.

Vaccine for family members, like that for the active-duty and civilian work force, will arrive at military medical treatment facilities incrementally, Embrey said.