News: Guardmembers urged to prepare for flu season
Story by Sgt. 1st Class Jon Soucy
ARLINGTON, Va. — Army and Air National Guard members are scheduled to receive vaccinations against the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu virus beginning in early November, National Guard Bureau officials recently confirmed.
The exact date that Guard members will receive the H1N1 vaccine will be dictated by the Department of Defense or their state's plan for distributing the vaccine.
"The [Center for Disease Control] is really the lead on distributing the vaccine through the public health system and every state has their own plan on how they are going to set it up," said Army Capt. Lisa Burg, a medical plans officer with the National Guard Bureau's Joint Surgeon's Office. "Most National Guard Soldiers and Airmen are basically in the plan for the state they are in."
However, that may change in the near future, because there is "an increasing likelihood DoD will provide the vaccine to cover the entire Army Guard, regardless of status," said Col. Rob Brown, the chief surgeon of the Army National Guard.
Guardmembers on active duty or Title 10 orders are already scheduled to receive the vaccination through their host military treatment facility, said Air Force Maj. James Coker of the Air National Guard's Surgeon General's office.
Both groups will receive the vaccinations in accordance with prioritization guidelines set forth by the DoD and the CDC.
The DoD priority list is still being worked on, said Coker.
"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," said Army Lt. Col. Wayne Hachey, the director of preventive medicine for DoD health affairs.
The National Guard, however, will not distribute the H1N1 vaccine on its own.
"The National Guard will not obtain any of it directly ... unless it is specific to their state and it's in their state plan," said Burg.
Some states have already started providing the seasonal flu vaccines to Guardmembers, said Brown, who emphasized its importance.
"Get it now," he said. "It's required. Don't forget — unless your medical doctor says otherwise."
Guardmembers can take additional steps to protect themselves from both the seasonal flu and the H1N1 flu virus, such as covering their nose and mouth when sneezing or coughing, frequent hand washing and limiting contact with those who are sick.
Also, eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of sleep and exercise are other ways to help protect against the flu.
"All the things that your mom always told you to do," said Brown. "It sounds a little bit corny, but it works. It really works."
Guardmembers have been directed to stay at home at least 24 hours after experiencing fevers or any flu-like symptoms.
"If you feel the least bit sick, you're running a fever or have flu-like symptoms, stay at home," said Brown. "If the symptoms continue or worsen, go see your doctor or your primary care manager."
According to the CDC, the signs and symptoms of H1N1 are very similar to those of the seasonal flu and can include fever, cough, sore throat, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headache, chills and fatigue and may include diarrhea and vomiting.
You should seek emergency care if you have difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, bluish skin color, pain or pressure in the chest or abdomen, sudden dizziness, confusion or severe or persistent vomiting.
So, vaccination is important to thwart both of these viruses.
"It's important, because we're trying to decrease the risk of spreading it as well," said Burg. "Especially when you have Soldiers with families. We want to decrease the risk of it being spread and that's the biggest part."
Guardmembers should make plans to care for sick household members or for children if schools dismiss students or child care programs close.
"You owe it to yourself, your family and your fellow Soldier to get your flu vaccinations, seasonal and H1N1," Brown said. "A healthy team is a winning team!"
Guardmembers are encouraged to contact their chain of command or their state medical command for more information on vaccinations against H1N1 and the seasonal flu.