August has been designated as National Immunization and Influenza Vaccination Awareness Month. Immunizations are really the best protection against disease and have saved more lives than any other medical measure in history. “Immunizations have prevented approximately 42,000 deaths and 20 million cases of disease over the past decade,” said Col. Richard Looney, director of the Army’s Military Vaccination Program.
“Those preventive efforts have also saved billions of dollars in related health care costs and total societal costs. Morbidity from vaccine-preventable diseases has fallen 90 percent or more for most diseases since the 20th century,” he added.
A majority of disease outbreaks in the U.S. occur in unvaccinated or inadequately vaccinated populations. Measles made a comeback in the U.S. partly because unvaccinated people traveled to Europe, contracted the disease and returned home. Incidence of pertussis, or whooping cough, have increased largely due to vaccination coverage rates going down, resulting in a recommendation from the Centers for Disease Control that everyone receive one lifetime booster dose of a pertussis-containing vaccine. Other vaccine-preventable diseases include polio, mumps, rubella, chickenpox, meningococcal disease, pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, human papillomavirus, shingles, and Haemophilus influenza B.
The dominant strain of influenza during the upcoming flu season is still expected to be the H1N1 strain from the 2009 pandemic. “H1N1 is still circulating, but due to outstanding efforts and immunization campaigns of the past few years, people are more aware and likely to be adequately protected during the height of flu season,” Looney said. He added that influenza immunization rates have gone up every year, and are expected to do so again during the 2012-13 season.” “Immunization is the very best protection against disease and related complications. Vaccines are safe and effective, and have saved more lives than any other medical measure in history,” Looney added. A common misconception is that vaccinations are just for kids. Everyone over the age of 6 months should receive a seasonal flu shot every year. However, there are certain groups who should not receive the vaccination. For instance, those with altered immune competence are at high risk for influenza infections and should be vaccinated with trivalent inactivated influenza virus vaccine. Those with existing medical conditions should consult their health care provider before receiving the influenza vaccine.
Army clinics in Europe are expected to begin offering influenza vaccinations in September.