WASHINGTON - U.S. Central Command has received half of the vaccine needed to inoculate its forces against the H1N1 virus, Pentagon Press Secretary Geoff Morrell said today.
The vaccines arrived in Qatar overnight and should be pushed out to troops serving in Iraq, Afghanistan, Kuwait and other parts of the region within the next day, Morrell said. About 300,000 forces serve in the command's area of responsibility.
Meanwhile, roughly 26,000 doses arrived in South Korea this week for servicemembers assigned there, Morrell said.
"So we're making some progress in terms of getting the H1N1 vaccine to our forces worldwide," he said. "But because we are still operating with a limited quantity, we have to prioritize those who will get it. And according to our prioritization list, our military forces and those who support them are at the top of that list."
The Defense Department does not yet have enough of the vaccine to treat all servicemembers, their families and other support personnel. The department received its initial allotments of the vaccine last week and began distributing them according to a prioritized list of recipients. Vaccines will be made available first to deployed troops, then to deployed health-care workers, including civilian employees and contractors.
"It is imperative that we keep our forces able to do their jobs so as to provide for the protection of our interests around the world," Morrell said.
"They are already in very difficult circumstances. Every one of them is needed, and we can't afford to have an outbreak of the [H1N1] flu in Afghanistan, in Iraq, in any other location where our forces are deployed," he said. "So we're doing everything within our power to make sure our guys downrange get this as soon as possible."
The department also has received several hundred vaccines from the Health and Human Services Department for defense civilians. Because vaccines are coming in relatively small numbers, local commanders are responsible for determining how supplies are distributed.
Immunization for both seasonal flu and H1N1 is mandatory for all military personnel and is highly recommended for family members.
When the first cases of H1N1 were diagnosed in the United States in April, the department bought 2.7 million doses of the vaccine for mission-assurance purposes. HHS later provided 1 million doses to the department, raising the number to 3.7 million, officials said.
In addition to vaccines being received for operational personnel, Defense Department medical treatment facilities now are receiving vaccine for family members living in the United States. Pentagon officials also have an agreement with HHS to provide the vaccine for family members living outside the United States.
Vaccine for family members and the civilian work force will arrive at military medical treatment facilities incrementally, department officials said.