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Attack Wing locked, loaded for upcoming flu season

A vaccination is being prepared Sept. 18, 2015 in the 111th Attack Wing medical clinic, Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania. The 111th ATKW will begin administering flu immunizations to all Guardsmen during the October unit training assembly. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond/Released)

A vaccination is being prepared Sept. 18, 2015 in the 111th Attack Wing medical clinic, Horsham Air Guard Station, Pennsylvania. The 111th ATKW will begin administering flu immunizations to all Guardsmen during the October unit training assembly. (U.S. Air National Guard photo by Tech. Sgt. Andria Allmond/Released)

HORSHAM AIR GUARD STATION, Pa. --  It's the time of year when, often begrudgingly, hordes of digitally-printed patriots saunter to the 111th Attack Wing's Medical Clinic to remain current with their medical requirements. But obtaining the flu vaccine can be seen as more than just a check mark on the to-do list for Guardsmen, it could be the difference between life and death.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, every year the U.S. undergoes epidemics of the flu. "Flu season" normally occurs in the winter, but outbreaks happen as early as October and can last until May. Usually starting with influenza-like illnesses, the epidemic then showcases an increase in hospitalizations, followed by increases in flu-associated deaths.

As if possible demise wasn't enough to inspire inoculation, the flu also comes with a hefty price tag on employers. 

According to the Society for Human Resource Management, "...influenza was responsible for 100 million-lost workdays during the 2010-2011 flu season. That's $7 billion in lost wages; two-thirds of the missed workdays were employer-paid sick time. The flu sliced more than $10 billion off company productivity."

The site also states that up to 12 percent of employee absences are related to the flu virus. Those absences may be up to six days, with upwards of 14 days to make a full recovery.

The CDC recommends people get vaccinated by October, as it takes two weeks for antibodies to develop in the body to provide protection against the flu.

Each year vaccines are formulated to protect against what researches suggest will be the most common strain during the upcoming season. Predominately, people receive a vaccine which protects against three viruses. The three kinds of flu viruses commonly circulate among people today: influenza A (H1N1) viruses, influenza A (H3N2) viruses, and influenza B viruses. Some of the 2015-2016 flu vaccine is quadrivalent, which means it also protects against an additional fourth virus.

And it's not just the individual who suffers from going unvaccinated, the entire unit suffers.

"It's not just about the wing member being in current Individual Medical Readiness Status," said Tech. Sgt. Alicia Singh, 111th Medical Group aerospace medical technician. "If just one member decides they aren't going to get the vaccine, our percentage of readiness drops. It's required for the whole unit to be ready to fight - so when one of us isn't, we all aren't.

"Also, that report goes to the commander. He knows where we're deficient when it comes to the unit's duty limiting conditions."

Guardsmen can't hide from the flu; and they can't hide form the vaccine.

"It's mandatory," said Lt. Col. Elizabeth Topol-Lynch, 111th Medical Group medical administrative office. "That's it. [Department of Defense] policy states influenza immunizations are mandatory for all active duty, National Guard, and reserve personnel."

She continued by saying that some members are hesitant or may attempt to sidestep the call for vaccination, but the inoculation is not an option.

Topol-Lynch stated that on average, more than 226,000 people are hospitalized from flu complications, with about 36,000 people dying from influenza each year. She also added that the myth of people becoming sick from the shot is just plain not true.

Citing CDC information, Topol-Lynch stating that influenza vaccine does not cause flu illness, despite what some may believe, but vaccinated people may have some mild flu-like symptoms. These symptoms include mild fever muscle aches which are caused by the immune system's response to the vaccine. Although unpleasant, the effects are not the same as having influenza.

So, while the possibility of some side effects does exist, overall mission effectiveness outweighs the slight discomfort some Guardsmen may feel.

"And again," restates Topol-Lynch. "It's mandatory. End of story."

To learn more about this year's strain and vaccination, http://www.cdc.gov/flu/about/season/flu-season-2015-2016.htm.