ARLINGTON, Va. - The Army and Air National Guards have begun rolling out this year's flu vaccinations to service members as they look to get ahead of the approaching flu season.
Air Force Gen. Craig McKinley, the chief of the National Guard Bureau, and Air Force Chief Master Sgt. Denise Jelinski-Hall, the senior enlisted leader, lined up to get their annual influenza vaccination at the Pentagon earlier this month.
"The best way to prevent the flu is to get vaccinated each year," said Army Col. Jack Husak, chief of preventive medicine for the Army National Guard. "The Center for Disease Control recommends everyone getting vaccinated, and it is mandatory for all military personnel."
"The flu season happens in the winter, but what we want to do is try and have everyone immunized before the flu season so that you have [the vaccine] in your system. Usually it takes about two-to-four weeks to start working in your system to prevent [the flu]."
For the Army Guard, Husak said the goal is to have 90 percent of personnel immunized by Dec. 1.
"Prevention is key," he said. "Other than vaccination, other things to do to prevent the spread of the virus are common sense things like washing your hands with soap and water or hand sanitizer, covering your mouth and nose when you cough or sneeze."
Air Force Senior Master Sgt. Michele Miller, superintendent of public health and prevention for the Air National Guard, also highly recommends yearly immunization against the flu virus.
"It prevents and breaks the chain of infection," Miller said. "As a result of our Guard members getting it, it won't affect our mission and our members will continue to stay healthy. This leads to less time spent actually being sick and lessens the chances of spreading it on to someone else."
"The vaccine this year will protect against three strains: two seasonal-flu strains and one H1N1 strain, which is something that they added last year,"
Husak said. "And because the virus can change rapidly and mutate, it's important to get the vaccine every year."
Some signs and symptoms of the flu are: sore throat, fever, cough, runny or stuffy nose, body aches, headaches and fatigue, Husak said.
"If you do get sick, please seek the advice of your healthcare provider."
TRICARE beneficiaries are authorized to receive immunization at participating TRICARE retail network pharmacies at no cost. Call (877) 363-1303 or go to http://www.express-scripts.com/TRICARE/pharmacy to find participating pharmacies and verify eligibility.