An Army family member at Fort Bliss, Texas receives the seasonal flu vaccine at a community flu drive held Oct. 9, 2020, at the Fort Bliss Main Exchange. More than 600 Army family members and military retirees were vaccinated during the two-day event. (Photo by Michelle L. Gordon, USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office)

Flu vaccine campaign underway at Fort Bliss

By Michelle L. Gordon, USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office

The line wrapped around the lobby of the Main Exchange at Fort Bliss, Texas, Oct. 9, 2020, as active-duty family members and military retirees waited six feet apart for their seasonal influenza vaccine.

It was the second day of the community flu vaccination drive and officer-in-charge 1st Lt. Tameika Gantt, a registered nurse at William Beaumont Army Medical Center, said she was encouraged by the turnout for both days.

“Yesterday we vaccinated a little over 300 people, and today we pulled another 300 to distribute,” she said. “We have 100 doses for seniors and another 200 for dependents – ages 36 months to 64 years.”

Gantt explained that people over the age of 65 should receive the high-dose vaccine because their immune systems are not as strong as younger individuals.

In addition to fighting the flu, Gantt said her team is also fighting COVID-19 this year. Prior to the start of the campaign, they consulted the WBAMC safety office, as well as public health and occupational health professionals. Precautions such as new gloves for each patient have always been part of the flu drive process, but social distancing, masks and temperature checks are all new this year. Gantt said they are also disinfecting chairs between patients.

A health care professional from William Beaumont Army Medical Center at Fort Bliss, Texas, disinfects chairs between patients at a community flu drive, held Oct. 9, 2020, at the Fort Bliss Main Exchange. (Photo by Michelle L. Gordon, USAG Fort Bliss Public Affairs Office)“We realized the process was slowed down a bit because we had to allow for the chairs to dry after being wiped down, so we streamlined it by having two chairs at each station – one chair dries while the other is being used by a patient, and we alternate the chairs,” she said.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, while flu viruses are detected year-round, the exact timing and duration of flu season can vary. Influenza activity often begins to increase in October and peaks between December and February. Health care professionals from WBAMC will be distributing flu vaccines now through early 2021. 

Gantt said active-duty service members and their families can receive the vaccine from their provider, or from one of the community drives held throughout the installation. They can also receive one at a participating TRICARE network pharmacy. 

Wherever they receive it, Gantt just wants everyone to get one, especially this year, to help reduce the strain on health care systems. 

The flu vaccine works by causing antibodies to develop in the body about two weeks after vaccination. These antibodies provide heightened resistance against infection from the strains of the virus used to make the vaccine.

“The vaccine covers the four flu strains that epidemiologists and the CDC determine will be the top strains for this particular year,” Gantt said. “The bottomline is, the flu vaccine saves lives and it cuts down on hospitalizations each year. It also protects those you care about, so I definitely encourage everyone who can receive the vaccine to get the vaccine.”

To locate a participating TRICARE network pharmacy, call 1-877-363-1303. To receive the vaccine at your assigned clinic, call (915) 742-2273 and select option one.

Health William Beaumont Army Community Hospital flu drive flu shots flu vaccine