Story by C.J. Lovelace
FORT DETRICK, Md. -- With the annual flu season now upon us, the U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency is working to distribute nearly 1.6 million doses of influenza vaccine to protect Soldiers, their families and retirees.USAMMA’s Distribution Operations Center, or DOC, oversees the yearly distribution of the vaccine to active-duty and reserve Soldiers, as well as civilian staff and family members. The Army makes up the majority of doses ordered throughout the Department of Defense.As of Oct. 28, roughly half of the Army’s doses had been shipped, heading to destinations across the U.S. and abroad. DOC officials plan to have distribution completed by the end of November.USAMMA is a direct reporting unit to Army Medical Logistics Command.The agency’s DOC provides coordination and tracking for select temperature sensitive medical products, like the flu vaccine. It also conducts training for logistical and medical units to ensure proper distribution and storage practices for those products.Lt. Col. Todd Reeder, USAMMA’s pharmacy consultant and DOC director, said there has been a significant push throughout the Army and DOD to raise awareness about the importance of getting a flu shot, especially this year due to influenza symptoms mimicking those of COVID-19.“Having the flu shot will assist health care personnel in determining the possible cause of a patient’s symptoms,” he said.Patients that go to the emergency room with flu-like symptoms will still be tested for both illnesses, but “the hope is that the severity of symptoms from the flu will be much less” with a vaccine and won’t add to the symptoms of COVID-19 in the unlikely event a patient catches both, Reeder said.According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, it’s unclear to what extent SARS-CoV-2 -- the scientific name of the novel coronavirus strain that causes the disease called COVID-19 -- will circulate over the 2020-21 flu season.In any case, the CDC said the flu vaccine can reduce the prevalence of flu-like illness. It can also reduce symptoms that might be confused with COVID-19.“Prevention and reduction in the severity of influenza illness and reduction of outpatient illnesses, hospitalizations and intensive care unit admissions through influenza vaccination also could alleviate stress on the U.S. health care system,” the CDC said.The DOD sets an annual goal of having at least 90% of all active-duty military members vaccinated by Jan. 15 each flu season, which generally begins in the fall and lasts until early spring.While the virus circulates year-round, activity typically begins to increase in October and spikes between December and February, even though seasonal activity can last until May, according to the CDC.Army flu vaccine distribution is a year-round job. DOC officials work closely with the Defense Health Agency and Defense Logistics Agency, which handles yearly procurement and shipping for the DOD.The doses come in different forms to treat a wide variety of people, ranging from infants 6 months and older to folks over 65 years of age.Most people will benefit from a flu vaccination. In most cases, according to the CDC, the risks associated with getting vaccinated are significantly lower than the benefits. The vaccine also has shown to make the flu milder, which may reduce the risk of more serious outcomes such as hospitalizations.