By Rear Adm. Thomas McGinnis, Chief, Pharmaceutical Operations Directorate, Pharmacy Operations of the TRICARE Management Activity
January marks the new year but it also signals the start of flu season. According to a recent FluView report released by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), five states – Alabama, Georgia, Mississippi, New York and Virginia – already have widespread reports of flu. With flu season well underway, TRICARE urges its 9.6 million beneficiaries who have not gotten vaccinated to do so as soon as possible.
Seasonal influenza is a contagious respiratory virus that can cause mild to severe illness and, at times, can lead to death. Everyone six months of age and older should get vaccinated. Older TRICARE beneficiaries, pregnant beneficiaries and young children and are especially at high risk for serious flu complications. Immunization is important not only for pregnant beneficiaries, but also for those who may become pregnant during flu season. If you are pregnant, the injectable seasonal influenza vaccine is safe for you in any trimester.
The 2010-2011 flu vaccine protects against three different flu viruses: H3N2, influenza B and the H1N1 virus that caused so much illness last season. Currently, two forms of influenza vaccine are distributed in the U.S. and both are covered by TRICARE:
- An injectable, inactivated vaccine that contains a killed virus and can be used in all age groups six months and older.
- An intranasal spray made with live, weakened influenza viruses; limited to use in healthy people between the ages of 2 and 49 years, and who are not pregnant at the time they receive the vaccination.
If you are a TRICARE beneficiary, you can get the flu vaccine at no cost from Military Treatment Facilities (MTFs), TRICARE-authorized providers or at any of the 50,000 participating network pharmacies (call 1-877-363-1303 to find a participating pharmacy).
Links to search online for MTFs, providers and pharmacies can be found at www.tricare.mil/flu. You should always check ahead for the days and times the flu vaccine is available and the age range served at that location. Some states have restrictions for pharmacies giving vaccinations to children, so you should ask your pharmacist if there are any restrictions. If there are, consider using an MTF or have your primary care physician vaccinate your child.
Before being immunized, you should be medically screened to determine eligibility, contraindications and which vaccine you should receive. If you are a uniformed service member (Active Duty, National Guard, and Reserves), you are required to be immunized. Active Duty service members (ADSMs) have priority for getting the vaccine at MTFs but may also receive the vaccine at a participating network pharmacy. When received at a network pharmacy, ADSMs are required to follow their service policy guidance for recording the immunization in their shot record by the close of business the next duty day.
Remember, you can take everyday precautions to stop the spread of flu:
- Cover your nose and mouth with a tissue when you cough or sneeze.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water. If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand rub.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
- Avoid close contact with sick people.
- Avoid others if you are sick to keep from infecting them.
Also remember, anyone, even if healthy, can get sick from the flu. Take preventive measures today and get your flu shot.