WASHINGTON -- Obtaining proper immunizations against disease is a key factor in sustaining the health of service members, military retirees and their families, senior defense health officials said here today.
"As an infectious disease doctor, I've always felt that a vaccine is that ultimate victory in our war against bugs," Michael E. Kilpatrick, the Military Health System's deputy director for force health protection and readiness programs, said at the Pentagon's DiLorenzo Tricare Health Clinic during the military's Immunization Awareness Month kickoff ceremony.
The military's immunization awareness program mirrors National Immunization Month, which is observed across America each August, and reminds service members, retirees and their families to safeguard their health by keeping their shot records up to date.
"I think this month, we really want to focus on the full spectrum, from the newborn to the older person, and the importance of vaccines and understanding when those are due throughout your life," Kilpatrick said.
The Defense Department works hard to offer less-reactive, comfortable vaccines that provide tremendous protection for service members, military retirees and their families, Kilpatrick said.
August is a good time to remind adults to check their personal and children's shot records, Kilpatrick said, because school will begin soon and the flu season follows shortly afterward. Obtaining an annual flu shot remains an important measure, Kilpatrick pointed out, noting that about 36,000 Americans die from the flu each year.
The American military has been in the vaccine business for a long time, Kilpatrick said. Continental Army commander Gen. George Washington, he said, ordered that his troops be inoculated against smallpox during the Revolutionary War. Today, he said, the military's vaccination program protects overseas-deployed troops against potential biological threats such as anthrax and smallpox.
Pneumonia vaccine shots provided to older military retirees and their families also are extremely important and are known to save lives, he said. Yet, "because we have the vaccines doesn't mean they get used," Kilpatrick said.
Programs like immunization month are important, Kilpatrick said, because they remind hospitals and clinics to encourage customers to obtain needed vaccines.
"Are you up to date on your shots?" Kilpatrick asked.
The DiLorenzo clinic provides vaccinations to about 17,000 service members, defense civilians and contractors who work at the Pentagon, Army Col. Dale K. Block, the clinic's commander, said.
Keeping immunization records current "is a big deal," Block said, noting it affects force readiness as well as the individual health of service members, retirees and their families.
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