CAMP AS SAYLIYAH, Qatar — U.S. Army Sgt. 1st Class Gary Newman, from Brooklyn, N.Y., received the first H1N1 influenza vaccine in the Central Command area of responsibility at Camp As Sayliyah, Qatar, Nov. 5. The shipment of H1N1 vaccines arrived Nov. 4. Medical logistics specialists immediately repackaged and relayed the vaccines to war fighters in Southwest Asia. Inoculations at the Qatar base started the following morning.
"No shortage of H1N1 vaccines should be expected in CENTCOM," said Maj. Willie Davis, U.S. Army Medical Materiel Center Southwest Asia chief of support operations, who controls CENTCOM medical material movements. The first portion of the split shipment departed the Qatar base, Nov. 5. The second half of the order is expected from the United States soon.
"H1N1 vaccine delivery is a joint-service effort to best support the war fighters," said Davis. Tight product control, using military assets only, intends to prevent delays while meeting storage requirements. "We only have a 36-hour window once we pack the vaccines inside insulated containers with frozen blocks. After that timeframe, container temperatures may exceed the 2- to 8-degree Celsius threshold, which then risks losing product. The Air Force more than meets our window for delivery."
"An aggressive H1N1 vaccine allocation plan is underway to meet CENTCOM needs over the next few weeks," said Maj. Martin Russell, USAMMC-SWA pharmacist. Up until a week prior to receiving the H1N1 vaccines in Qatar, Russell was helping arrange storage facilities at clinics in Iraq and Afghanistan. "Once we've sent all the vaccines, it's up to local clinics to facilitate quick inoculation schedules."
CENTCOM service members need H1N1 antibodies, urgently, to minimize the impact of the virus on combat strength. As daylight hours draw down and outdoor temperatures become cooler, troops start spending more time confined inside close quarters. Furthermore, an upcoming wave of holiday travel — inbound and outbound — increases the likeliness of passing influenza infections.
To prevent an influenza pandemic, many U.S. military installations have restricted servicemembers to H1N1 surveillance rooms after they exhibit a combination of influenza-like symptoms with an elevated body temperature of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher.
According to Russell, seasonal influenza vaccination distribution adheres to strict sequential requirements that take over a month to complete each year. H1N1 dispatch will finish much faster due to authorization for high-priority, simultaneous shipments.
Novartis, manufacturer of the H1N1 vaccines, is providing the supply of injectable multi-dose vials. Injectable preparations are much easier to store and ship in hefty quantities, compared to nasal spray vaccines, the alternative form for delivery.
"The H1N1 influenza shot doesn't feel any different than the seasonal vaccine," said Newman, minutes after the Third Army/U.S. Army Central Area Support Group Qatar preventative medicine specialist received the first CENTCOM vaccine. "We want to take out the enemy before it takes us out — H1N1 is the enemy and this vaccination is our best way to combat it."