Robins waits for H1N1 vaccines

The military plans to vaccinate all its troops for the H1N1 influenza. All it needs now are the vaccinations.

Now, the military faces a tactical, as well as public health, challenge. As impatient local communities wait for the vaccines, they can be assured that the military has only rushed its troops to the front of the line if they are deploying.

“Currently, the priority will be medical personnel and first responders, military members who are deploying and as required after that,” said Maj. Richelle Dowdell, an Air Force spokeswoman at the Pentagon.

Military members who aren’t deploying will be immunized “as the vaccines are made available,” Dowdell said. All active-duty service members will be mandated to receive the seasonal flu and H1N1 vaccine.

At Robins Air Force Base, installation officials expect vaccines to arrive this month. No vaccinations have arrived on the base as of this week.

“It’s certainly been expedited in view of the threat,” said Col. Steven Lamb, the public health emergency officer for Robins.

“H1N1 influenza, like many threats, has a preventable option,” Lamb said. “We vaccinate them against the H1N1 flu like we do the seasonal flu.”

The military’s role is one-third of the federal government’s response to the outbreak, Lamb said.

The Department of Health and Human Services will be charged with immunizing federal employees, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention will distribute immunizations to state health departments to immunize people in their local communities.

“The DoD flow takes care of the military,” Lamb said.

But troops aren’t necessarily the only ones the military will vaccinate, according to a recent report. The military plans to vaccinate terror suspects held at Guantanamo Bay, Cuba, for the H1N1 influenza, the Washington Post reported this week.

When asked about the report Tuesday, White House Press Secretary Robert Gibbs did not deny that the detainees eventually would receive the vaccine, but said that “there is no vaccine in Guantanamo, and there’s no vaccine on the way to Guantanamo.”

To contact writer Thomas L. Day, call 744-4489.