An estimated 85 percent of Fort Gordon’s service members were inoculated against the flu Wednesday at a rate of more than 300 soldiers every 15 minutes.
The annual mass inoculation is unique in the Army to Fort Gordon and has shortened over the past seven years from a three-day event to about eight hours.
The Department of Defense requires every base to have 90 percent of its garrison protected against influenza by December. Fort Gordon’s Dwight D. Eisenhower Army Medical Center meets that goal early, said Chin Wang, a military vaccine regional analyst.
“We try to do it quicker and better,” Wang said.
Around 9 a.m. – four hours after the the doors opened to a line of soldiers – the scene inside Gym No. 5 was that of controlled chaos. A steady stream of soldiers, airmen, sailors and Marines passed through the lanes of nursing students dressed in crisp white uniforms.
Most of those under the age of 50 received the nasal mist; the older soldiers got a jab in the arm.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the 2011-12 flu season started late and was generally mild, setting a record for the lowest and shortest peak. The CDC recommends that everyone older than 6 months receive a vaccination, particularly vulnerable populations such as those over the age of 65, pregnant women and people at risk of developing complications such as pneumonia with the flu.
For the armed forces, the flu shot ensures military readiness, particularly among soldiers who live in close quarters on a post.
Months of preparation went into Wednesday’s event, which typically targets about 9,000 service members, but there are still unforeseen snags. The refrigerated truck carrying the vaccinations broke down Wednesday morning. Melody Brown, a preventative medicine nurse at the hospital, shrugged it off and made new plans.
“We’re the Army,” she said. “We adapt and overcome.”