USA — Tricare Official: Early Flu Shots Key to Prevention

WASHINGTON — With flu sea­son already under way, a top Tri­care mil­i­tary health plan offi­cial encour­ages the system’s almost 9.7 mil­lion ben­e­fi­cia­ries to get their flu shots as ear­ly as pos­si­ble at a mil­i­tary med­ical facil­i­ty or net­work provider, or — in an increas­ing­ly pop­u­lar option — at any par­tic­i­pat­ing phar­ma­cy.

Mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals and clin­ics and Tri­care net­work providers are stocked with this year’s flu vac­cine, ready to admin­is­ter them now, Navy Rear Adm. Chris­tine S. Hunter, deputy direc­tor for the Tri­care Man­age­ment Activ­i­ty, told Amer­i­can Forces Press Ser­vice.

It’s avail­able to every Tri­care ben­e­fi­cia­ry over 6 months old, with no copay­ment or preau­tho­riza­tion required, even for peo­ple enrolled in pro­grams that typ­i­cal­ly require one, she said.

“We want you to get the shot,” Hunter empha­sized, call­ing flu shots “an essen­tial pre­ven­tive ser­vice.” Nine out of 10 healthy peo­ple who get the shot won’t get the flu, accord­ing to the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion.

Unlike last year, when peo­ple need­ed two vac­cines — a con­ven­tion­al flu shot and anoth­er devel­oped specif­i­cal­ly for the H1N1 virus — one shot will suf­fice this year, Hunter not­ed. Its for­mu­la­tion cov­ers two of the most com­mon sea­son­al influen­za strains, A H3N2 and B virus, as well as H1N1.

Although the flu typ­i­cal­ly does­n’t hit some regions for anoth­er few months, research shows it’s bet­ter to get the vac­cine ear­ly, prefer­ably by mid-Octo­ber.

Last year, for exam­ple, when man­u­fac­tur­ing short­ages delayed flu shots for Tri­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries along with the gen­er­al pop­u­la­tion, 486,000 Tri­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries who had­n’t been immu­nized devel­oped flu symp­toms before Nov. 1.

“We went back and looked at our data and real­ized that if we had been able to get every­one immu­nized in Octo­ber rather than lat­er in the year, we would have pre­vent­ed almost 500,000 peo­ple from get­ting sick,” Hunter said. Not all required a doctor’s care and most did­n’t expe­ri­ence any seri­ous com­pli­ca­tions, she said, but almost all could have avoid­ed the flu if the vac­cine had been avail­able soon­er.

“This year, there is no delay in the dis­tri­b­u­tion of the shots,” Hunter said. “You can get it now. It’s avail­able in mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals and clin­ics and through Tri­care now. So we would like to encour­age peo­ple to get it now.”

To make that as con­ve­nient as pos­si­ble, Tri­care has entered into agree­ments with about 50,000 retail phar­ma­cies nation­wide. Like mil­i­tary hos­pi­tals and clin­ics and Tri­care net­work providers, they will admin­is­ter the flu shot at no cost to Tri­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries.

Many of the retail phar­ma­cies offer flu shots at night and on week­ends, and most don’t require appoint­ments.

Tri­care intro­duced the phar­ma­cy option dur­ing last year’s flu sea­son, and Hunter said she hopes more peo­ple will take advan­tage of it this year as they learn about the pro­gram.

“Peo­ple real­ly val­ue con­ve­nience in their health care,” she said. “This is part of a cam­paign to bring pre­ven­tive care as close to where peo­ple live and work as pos­si­ble.”

The Tri­care web­site lists par­tic­i­pat­ing phar­ma­cies, with a loca­tor but­ton iden­ti­fy­ing the clos­est one, based on the beneficiary’s ZIP code.

While encour­ag­ing peo­ple to get their flu shot wher­ev­er it’s most con­ve­nient, Hunter empha­sized that some Tri­care ben­e­fi­cia­ries should con­sult their med­ical provider first. These include peo­ple with a seri­ous chron­ic ill­ness, young chil­dren who have nev­er had a flu shot and oth­er at-risk groups.

Retail phar­ma­cies will admin­is­ter flu shots to active-duty mil­i­tary mem­bers and can pro­vide doc­u­men­ta­tion for their offi­cial shot records.

How­ev­er, Hunter rec­og­nized that some ser­vice­mem­bers may be required to get their shots along with the rest of the mem­bers of their units. That way, she explained, the infor­ma­tion is record­ed imme­di­ate­ly in unit shot records, with no delay.

In addi­tion to get­ting a flu shot, CDC offi­cials offer addi­tion­al tips for avoid­ing the flu and its spread:

— Cov­er your nose and mouth with a tis­sue when you cough or sneeze. Throw the tis­sue in the trash after you use it.

— Wash your hands often with soap and water, espe­cial­ly after you cough or sneeze. You also can use an alco­hol-based hand clean­er.

— Avoid touch­ing your eyes, nose or mouth. Germs spread this way.

— Try to avoid close con­tact with sick peo­ple.

— Stay home if you are sick until at least 24 hours after you no longer have a fever — 100 degrees Fahren­heit or 37.8 degrees Cel­sius — or signs of a fever with­out the use of a fever-reduc­ing med­i­cine such as aceta­minophen.

— While sick, lim­it con­tact with oth­ers as much as pos­si­ble to keep from infect­ing them.

U.S. Depart­ment of Defense
Office of the Assis­tant Sec­re­tary of Defense (Pub­lic Affairs)

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