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Sorry flu, not this year

U.S. Air Force Kathryn Klein, right, an aerospace medical service specialist with 182nd Medical Group, Illinois Air National Guard, administers an influenza vaccination during drill weekend at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., Dec. 8, 2019. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, and the best prevention is getting a flu vaccine each year. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Paul R. Helmig II) U.S. Air Force Kathryn Klein, right, an aerospace medical service specialist with 182nd Medical Group, Illinois Air National Guard, administers an influenza vaccination during drill weekend at the 182nd Airlift Wing in Peoria, Ill., Dec. 8, 2019. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the flu is a contagious respiratory illness caused by influenza viruses, and the best prevention is getting a flu vaccine each year. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Senior Airman Paul R. Helmig II)

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Even with the scare of a highly contagious virus spreading each year, U.S. service members and beneficiaries can feel relieved this flu season.

Through a complex and heavily coordinated global effort, the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support Medical supply chain teamed with Department of Defense partners to provide 3.4 million doses of the influenza vaccine to service members, dependents and retirees.

“Everybody knows preventing the flu and getting our service members vaccinated is so important every year,” said Jenna Wesolowski, a Medical contracting officer. “The dedication of everyone involved just shows and makes the program so successful because we try our hardest to get everybody vaccinated.”

The DLA Troop Support Medical team worked alongside the Defense Health Agency, DLA Distribution and military service medical logistics personnel through a yearlong effort supporting the DOD’s 2019-2020 Seasonal Influenza Vaccination Program and its goal to vaccinate 90 percent of all service members by Jan. 15.

“My dad was a Marine, so I think of him being out in the field and I wouldn’t want him getting sick with the flu … that's why I love this job,” Wesolowski explained. “I just think it's so important to dedicate yourself to the warfighter because they’re the people protecting us. This program has always been super important to me.”

Flu season most commonly occurs during the fall and winter months, historically peaking from December through February. The season can sometimes last all the way until May, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

According to DHA, the 2019-2020 flu season was successful in meeting its service member vaccination goal thanks to the communication and dedication of the agencies involved.

“The relationship between DLA, DHA-Immunization Healthcare Division and the services is instrumental to a successful program,” said Tara Reavey, DHA-IHD’s Policy and Program Management section chief. “New challenges impact each flu vaccination season and DHA-IHD, DLA and the services work very hard to minimize the impact of these challenges and to serve all customers in a timely manner.”

The Medical supply chain acquires the vaccines, ensures the manufacturer delivers the vaccines to the DLA Distribution warehouse on time and then coordinates deliveries to military treatment facilities and the Navy fleet around the globe.

Wesolowski and her teammates begin the contracting aspect of the program about a year out from flu season in January. As the season approaches, they work with the vendor on contractual obligations and monitor the program’s status until all the vaccines are delivered to Distribution’s warehouses, usually by the end of fall.

“We constantly communicate with the vendor for status and delivery updates,” Wesolowski said. “Then we relay that message to the customers and Distribution. That communication helps us overcome any hiccups, and I think that everybody did a good job getting the services vaccinated [this season].”

As the vaccines are delivered to the warehouse, Wesolowski and her teammates begin handing the program responsibilities off to another Medical team.

“When the services tell us what they want shipped, that's when our part kicks in,” explained Dana Dallas, the head of Medical’s cold chain management team. “It's our job to get the vaccines released from the warehouse and work with Distribution to make sure they get shipped correctly. We’ll [also] work with the carriers to make sure they deliver on time.”

Dallas and her teammates coordinate the vaccine delivery through a schedule agreed upon by the services at the beginning of flu season.

Military service medical logistics organizations, such as U.S. Army Medical Materiel Agency Distribution Operations Center, Naval Medical Logistics Command and Air Force Medical Readiness Agency, let the supply chain know when customers need vaccines, and upon receipt of the request, Medical coordinates with Distribution for delivery, Dallas said.

However, Dallas added, the challenge is overcoming the cold chain management obstacles such as temperature sensitivity, shelf life considerations and weather interruptions.

These challenges makes the delivery process more complicated when delivering to overseas locations, like Navy vessels that are constantly moving at sea or military treatment facilities located in remote locations with limited accessibility.

Using a Navy vessel as an example, Dallas says there are many variables to consider for delivery.

“I have to find them and find out how long they’re going to be at a certain location,” Dallas explained. “Are they somewhere I can deliver to, and if not, what's their next location? Do I need to go through a cross-dock location because I cannot get to theirs directly? Do I have to use military airlift because the commercial carriers can't get to the island or do I have to float it to them?”

Dallas said this year brought some challenges, but communication helped the organizations overcome them.

And even though the program cannot avoid all the barricades to a successful delivery, the partnership and commitment to the mission between the DLA organizations is what helps keep the military healthy during flu season.

“The mutual respect, trust and understanding of mission requirements that Distribution and Troop Support has built and relies on over the years allows a streamlined communication process that serves for better coordination and faster execution in meeting customer demand,” said Robert Garrettson, the DLA Distribution Shelf Life Special Commodities team lead. “This year’s program has been very successful because of the strong partnerships between all stakeholders.”

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