Joint Task Force Homeland Defense & Tripler Army Medical Center Public Affairs
HONOLULU – A supply of influenza vaccinations was sent out to five Pacific islands and U.S. territories, March 26.
A renewed partnership between the U.S. Army, local airlines and other federal and nongovernmental agencies allowed the shipment.
“The program actually began back in 2007,” said Mel Garcia, deputy of operations, Joint Task Force Homeland Defense.
At that time, it was noticed that American citizens in those territories were not getting vaccinated. A plan was formed to ship excess flu vaccine from Tripler Army Medical Center to the in-need areas. Unfortunately, due to the H1N1 scare, the program was suspended last year.
“There was no excess,” said Lance Golder, military vaccine analyst. “Manufacturers focused on the H1N1 vaccine, so there was less of the traditional flu vaccine. What we had, we used.”
However, due to a collaborative effort between military and civilian services, the program was reactivated, this year. Various military branches here in Hawaii and from the mainland donated 10,700 doses of the flu vaccine.
Additionally, Continental and Hawaiian airlines have provided delivery of the vaccine to JTF-HD’s partners in the Pacific since the program’s inception — at no cost.
“This collaborative effort is expected to benefit tens of thousands of Pacific Islanders over millions of square miles,” Garcia said.
While the flu season is over in the U.S., influenza is a year-round contagious disease in the tropics. Through the years, surplus vaccines that would otherwise have been discarded have been donated to Guam, American Samoa, the Federated States of Micronesia, the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands, the Marshall Islands, the Republic of Palau and other small Pacific islands.
The U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency and the Military Vaccine Agency help coordinate and ship the surplus vaccines from military treatment facilities, nationwide, to TAMC.
TAMC’s logistics division and preventive medicine department manage the project.
The Pacific Island Health Officers Association, comprised of the chief health officers of the various islands, determines how the vaccines will be distributed in their respective islands.
“This shows what a great ohana (or family) we have between the services. (The) Army, Navy, Air Force and Marine Corps all demonstrate what it means to be one team,” Golder said. “Hawaii’s military community leads the way.”