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The month of August has been designated as National Immunization & Influenza Vaccination Awareness Month.

It is critically important that every Soldier, family member, Department of Army civilian and health beneficiary receive all required immunizations and obtain their influenza vaccinations to ensure the Army is a healthy and mission-ready force.

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."

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 (whooping cough) have increased largely due to declining vaccination coverage rates, 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, chicken pox, meningococcal disease, pneumonia, tetanus, diphtheria, human papillomavirus, shingles, and Haemophilus influenza B.

"Immunization is the very best protection against disease and related complications," Looney said. "Vaccines are safe and effective, and have saved more lives than any other medical measure in history."

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," Looney said, "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. Influenza immunization rates have gone up every year, and there's no reason to expect they won't go up again during the 2012-13 season."

A common misconception is that vaccinations are just for children. Everyone older than 6 months of age should receive a seasonal flu shot every year.

Infection from influenza viruses can result in illness ranging from mild to severe and may cause life-threatening complications.

However, certain groups should not receive the vaccination. For instance, persons with altered immune competence are at high risk for influenza infections and should be vaccinated with trivalent inactivated influenza virus vaccine. Live virus vaccines are contraindicated and should be postponed until after chemotherapy or long-term, high-dose steroid therapy has ended.

Similarly, if a person has had a severe allergic reaction to a vaccine, another dose is not recommended. However, a person with a mild common illness such as a cold with a low-grade fever does not have to wait to be vaccinated.

Some people should not be vaccinated against the flu without first consulting a physician. They include:

* People with severe allergies to chicken eggs

* People who have previously had a severe reaction to influenza vaccination

* People with a history of Guillain-Barré syndrome

* Children younger than 6 months old

* People acutely ill with a fever

For people at a higher risk for flu complications and vaccination, it is especially important to decrease their risk of severe illness. They include:

* Pregnant women

* Children younger than age 5, especially children under 2 years old

* People age 65 and older

* Native Americans and Native Alaskans

* People of any age with certain chronic medical conditions

* People who are morbidly obese

* People who live in nursing homes

Flu vaccinations are also available at no cost to beneficiaries from any TRICARE-authorized provider or at participating pharmacies.

To locate a participating pharmacy, call 1-877-363-1303 or visit express-scripts.com/TRICARE/pharmacy/.

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