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Troops could get one of two different flu vaccines this year under the Defense Department’s vaccination program, including a new version, the “quadrivalent vaccine,” which guards against four separate strains of the disease.
Until this year, epidemiologists tried to predict which flu strains would spread the most during traditional flu season and advise vaccine manufacturers on the correct ones to include in their immunizations, usually three different strains.
But this year, the Food and Drug Administration and World Health Organization approved the production of a vaccine to guard against four strains — two Type A and two Type B viruses.
This year’s trivalent vaccine offers protection against the Type A California H1N1-like virus, the Type A Victoria H3N2-like virus and the Type B Massachusetts 2/2012 virus.
The quadrivalent guards against those three plus the Type B Brisbane 60/2008-like virus.
The Defense Department has ordered supplies of both the trivalent vaccine that protects against three strains, and the quadrivalent vaccine because of limited availability of the latter.
Which vaccine troops receive will depend on the supply at their military hospital or clinic. Both meet the requirement that all active-duty and reserve troops receive an annual flu vaccine.
Within DoD, the trivalent vaccine will be offered as a shot, while the quadrivalent vaccine will be given as a nasal spray.
Outside DoD facilities, there are several new flu vaccine options this year, including an egg-free version for people with allergies, a high-dose shot for people over age 65, and a micro-needle vaccine, also for people over age 65.
The egg-free vaccine, Flublok, was approved in January by the FDA for use by adults under age 50 who are allergic to egg albumin. It does not use an inactive version of the flu virus in its ingredients, nor is it chicken egg-based.
Although service members are advised to get their flu vaccine at a military hospital or clinic, those with egg allergies should speak with their commands or physicians to discuss Flublok as an alternative.
Service members who get their flu vaccines outside a military facility must provide a record of the vaccination to an immunization clinic by close of business the day after they receive their immunization.
The services hope to have more than 90 percent of all active-duty members vaccinated against influenza by Dec. 16. Peak flu season in the U.S. occurs from late December to early March.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, influenza affects 95 million Americans each year, resulting in 30 million doctors’ visits and 200,000 hospitalizations.
From 1976 to 2007, flu-associated deaths in the U.S. in any one flu season ranged as high as nearly 49,000, in 2003-04.
All active-duty personnel and mobilized National Guard and reserve members are required to be immunized, as are all DoD civilian health personnel and others with immunizations required in their job descriptions.
Tricare beneficiaries are encouraged to get flu shots at a military treatment facility but also can receive them through a Tricare network provider or network retail pharmacy.
Some pharmacies have age restrictions or do not offer certain vaccines, so Tricare recommends beneficiaries call ahead to check availability and requirements.
More informaiton on the DoD’s influenza vaccine program is available at the Military Vaccine Agency’s flu website.