Tripler Army Medical Center
HONOLULU — Coordinated efforts by the military services in Hawaii, reinforced by concerns about the H1N1 virus in 2009, lead to record vaccination rates of all Hawaii-based active duty personnel.
“I’ve never seen vaccination rates like these,” said Lance Golder, Department of Defense Military Vaccine Agency program manager for the Hawaii region.
The Pacific Regional Medical Command reported 100 percent of its military staff has been vaccinated.
Golder said that as of Feb. 24, about 84 percent of USARPAC Soldiers have been vaccinated for H1N1, despite the fact that H1N1 vaccine supplies were not readily available until December 2009.
“It was a huge undertaking, involving mass vaccinations at clinics and troops lining up at work-site vaccinations, including Camp Smith and at the Kunia tunnel,” Golder said.
The seasonal flu vaccination program started in early September 2009. Preventive medicine, clinic and military leaders realized they had to speed up the seasonal flu vaccinations to make way for a second vaccination program, H1N1, when vaccine supplies for this virus became available.
All the services’ efforts were coordinated through a Joint Public Health Vaccination Working Group, consisting of representatives from all the military services on Oahu.
H1N1 vaccinations are available at all Oahu military medical clinics, at least through April. Primary care and immunization clinics at all Oahu military installations are still taking walk-in patients. In addition, another public clinic is being planned at the Pearl Harbor Navy Exchange, March 13, 9 a.m.-2 p.m., in front of the commissary.
“Supplies are now plentiful, especially of the nasal spray form,” Golder said.
The H1N1 nasal spray can’t be stored for more than a few months, so health care providers are promoting the spray for children and adults, 2-49 years old, who have no underlying medical conditions.
The H1N1 flu virus has not been as serious as the seasonal flu virus strains for older adults, according to Maj. (Dr.) Paul Ciminera, deputy preventive medicine chief at the Army’s Pacific Regional Medical Command. However, more serious cases have been seen in children and adolescents than previous influenza seasons. Almost all of the flu cases here are now H1N1.
Ciminera said that unlike many states, Hawaii did not experience a second H1N1 wave late last year, and the virus reached its peak here last summer. However, the H1N1 virus may not be just a “seasonal” threat for Hawaii.
“The best way to protect yourself and your family from the inconvenience or the worst effects of the flu is to get vaccinated,” Ciminera said.
Ciminera also reminded parents that children under 10 years old, who got their first H1N1 flu shots in 2009, need the second booster shot to ensure immunity.
“I understand the frustration of folks who couldn’t get the H1N1 vaccination when they wanted it,” Ciminera said. “But now, it makes perfect sense to get it. The risk and the threat are still there.”
Flu vaccination requires joint effort between services
To ensure H1N1 vaccine supplies were distributed quickly to those who needed them first, the Army, Air Force, Navy and Pacific Regional Medical Command’s preventive medicine and clinical staffs on Oahu worked closely with the Department of Defense Military Vaccine Agency at Tripler Army Medical Center and Hawaii’s Department of Health.
The job was complicated since two supply chains were involved: the Department of Defense, which managed the supplies for military personnel, and Hawaii’s Department of Health, which managed supplies for the civilian population, to include military family members and civilian employees.
“The state loaned us injectable vaccines for a key group of pregnant women, when military supplies were low,” said Maj. (Dr.) Paul Ciminera, Pacific Regional Medical Command’s deputy preventive medicine chief. “They worked closely with us to cover our shortages.”
Besides walk-in clinic hours at medical facilities, mass vaccination events on weekends were set up at military shopping malls and on school campuses throughout Oahu.
As in past years, the Joint Public Health Vaccination Working Group, composed of Air Force, Army and Navy preventive medicine personnel, met regularly to plan, staff and arrange supplies for various vaccination events on Oahu.
The group formed about five years ago, sharing a common goal of getting as many military personnel and family members vaccinated as possible, during the annual flu season. The work continued despite group members leaving Hawaii on permanent or temporary assignments.
“It is truly a team effort from all of the services,” said Navy Lt. Emily Owens, Naval Health Clinic Hawaii’s preventive medicine department head and chair of the Joint Public Health Vaccination Working Group for the past couple of years. “When the Army was short of injectable seasonal flu vaccines, we loaned them ours, and if the Air Force had vaccines when we were short of a certain vaccine, they would take care of us.
“Other Navy commands outside Hawaii have been impressed with the results of our joint campaigns,” she said. “They hope to adopt some of our vaccination strategies and to use us as a model to increase teamwork and compliance in their regions.”