Wednesday, September 30, 2009
U.S. troops will begin getting required swine flu shots in the next week to 10 days, a top military commander said Tuesday, and active-duty forces headed to war zones and serving other critical functions will be at the front of the vaccination line.
Air Force Gen. Gene Renuart, head of U.S. Northern Command, also said that as many as 400 troops are ready to assist federal health and emergency management officials around the country if needed as the flu season heats up.
The Pentagon has bought 2.7 million doses of vaccine, and 1.4 million of those will go to active-duty military personnel. National Guard troops on active duty are also required to receive the vaccine, as are civilian Defense Department employees who are in critical jobs.
As a result, the military is expected to provide health officials with an early assessment of the vaccine's efficacy.
"Because I can compel people to get the shots, larger numbers will have the vaccine," Renuart said. "They will, as a percentage of the population, be vaccinated more rapidly than many of us. So we may see some objective results, good or not, of the vaccinations."
Shots will be doled out on a priority basis, with troops preparing to deploy coming first, followed by other active-duty forces, particularly any who might be needed to quickly respond to a hurricane or other emergency.
Families of military members will receive their shots through military bases, which will be working with state officials and will get their own shipments of the vaccine. Renuart said it appears that there is enough of the vaccine to meet the military's needs.
Inoculating the military is a key requirement of the Pentagon's emergency plan to ensure that troops are available to protect the nation. They also will be on tap to provide help to states if problems come up as the flu season continues.
Renuart said that more than two dozen troops have been dispatched so far to each of five regional headquarters to work with officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Department of Health and Human Services, the Federal Emergency Management Agency and state leaders.
But the military presence could rise to 80 in each regional office if needed, he said.
For the general population, the first swine flu vaccine should be in some doctors' offices as early as Oct. 5, according to U.S. health officials.
The early batches will protect 6 million to 7 million people, but the government expects to eventually have 250 million doses of the new vaccine. About 10 percent of those have been promised to other countries.