Tag: military vaccines

Mumps on the USS Fort McHenry

Like measles, we are seeing more mumps these days.

“Beginning in 1991, the military services implemented universal recruit immunization with a single dose of MMR vaccine, regardless of prior vaccination history. Shortly thereafter, and informed by the results of population serosurveys, the Air Force transitioned to a policy of targeted MMR vaccination, limiting the administration of MMR vaccine to recruits lacking serologic evidence of immunity to measles or rubella. With recent outbreaks of mumps, concerns have arisen that the practice of not specifically screening for mumps immunity in determining the need for MMR vaccine could lead to a relative increase in mumps risk among military recruits subject to screening. “

Eick et al on Incidence of mumps and immunity to measles, mumps and rubella among US military recruits, 2000–2004

Unlike measles, the MMR vaccine provides good, but not great protection against mumps.

And although military recruits are screened to see if they have low titers for measles and rubella, they still aren’t screened for mumps. The theory is that if their measles and rubella titers are low, then their mumps titer will be low too and they will get an MMR vaccine. Of course, this misses some who just have a low mumps titer, possibly an effect of waning immunity.

Mumps on the USS Fort McHenry

And that’s why we have been seeing mumps outbreaks on college campuses and most recently, on a Navy ship, although that isn’t a reason for everyone to go out and check their titers.

A tiny handful of measles outbreaks? There have been over 700 cases in the US during the past two years! There were only 37 cases in 2004.

Robert F. Kennedy, Jr has a lot to say about mumps…

He says that mumps outbreaks have devastated fully vaccinated populations at Harvard, Temple, Syracuse, Louisiana State, IU, and the U of Missouri…

And that mumps “epidemics” haven’t been covered by the media, because they don’t want to embarrass Merck…

Why won’t the media cover the mumps outbreaks! Oh, wait…

He also seems to think that these mumps cases have caused a national security threat

Is any of this true?

The simple fact that you can find a ton of stories in the media about the mumps outbreaks (they are not epidemics) gives you a good clue that they aren’t.

What about the quarantined sailors on the USS Fort McHenry?

That is true, but consider that only 27 of 700 of them have gotten parotitis, presumed to have been caused by mumps.

While you would expect that no one would get mumps or any other vaccine-preventable disease these days, that is just under 4% of those on board the ship.

What would have happened in the pre-vaccine era?

Although deaths were rare, mumps caused a lot of considerable loss of service and sick time in the military in the pre-vaccine era.
Although deaths were rare, mumps caused a lot of considerable loss of service and sick time in the military in the pre-vaccine era.

A whole lot more people would have gotten sick!

In the pre-vaccine era, although mumps was supposed to be a common childhood illness, about 1/3 to 1/2 of military recruits had never had mumps.

That meant big outbreaks of mumps that were hard to control, unlike what we see today.

“This article reports a recent public health response to 3 imported mumps cases occurring at Fort Campbell, Kentucky, that resulted in a contact investigation for 109 close contacts across varied settings. No secondary mumps cases were identified.”

Public Health Response to Imported Mumps Cases – Fort Campbell, Kentucky, 2018

Instead, not only do fewer people get sick during mumps outbreaks these days, but fortunately, they have fewer complications.

What kind of complications?

Mumps causes kids to have fever, puffy cheeks, and a painful, swollen jaw.
Mumps causes kids to have fever, puffy cheeks, and a painful, swollen jaw.

In addition to a swollen jaw, mumps is known to cause orchitis, aseptic meningitis, oophoritis, pancreatitis, and encephalitis.

“Risk was reduced for hospitalization, mumps orchitis and mumps meningitis when patient had received 1 dose of measles, mumps, and rubella vaccine. The protective effect of vaccination on disease severity is critical in assessing the total effects of current and future mumps control strategies.”

Young et al on Mumps Complications and Effects of Mumps Vaccination, England and Wales, 2002–2006

Fortunately, those complications are reduced when you get vaccinated. And so are your risks of actually getting mumps in the first place!

“This study demonstrates a significant preventive effect of two-dose vaccination against mumps complications (orchitis, meningitis, or encephalitis) and hospitalization for mumps.”

Orlíkováet al on Protective effect of vaccination against mumps complications, Czech Republic, 2007-2012.

Kennedy doesn’t mention a protective effect of the MMR vaccine, does he?

Remember, vaccines aren’t perfect, but even those that don’t work as well as the others still protect you from many of the worst complications and are much better than getting the disease naturally.

Mumps was often described as one of the top diseases that incapacitated soldiers in the prevaccine era.
Mumps was often described as one of the top diseases that incapacitated soldiers in the prevaccine era.

Vaccines are safe, with few risks, and are obviously necessary.

Is the mumps vaccine a national security threat? The only threat are the folks who continue to push anti-vaccine misinformation.

More on Mumps on the USS Fort McHenry

What is Eczema Vaccinatum?

Did you know that having eczema is a contraindication to getting a vaccine?

Which vaccine?

The smallpox vaccine!

Yes, smallpox has been eradicated, but the vaccine is sometimes still used in very specific situations, especially in the military.

What is Eczema Vaccinatum?

Not only is eczema a contraindication to getting the smallpox vaccine, you shouldn’t even get it if a household contact has eczema.

Why not?

Shedding.

Yes, although anti-vaccine folks needlessly worry about shedding when kids get routine childhood vaccines and even talk about a shedding season, with the smallpox vaccine, problems with shedding are really a thing.

Since the smallpox vaccine is a live virus vaccine and since it very commonly causes a skin reaction at the injection site, shedding can spread it to others. While that’s a good thing with some vaccines, like the oral polio vaccine, because it increases herd immunity, it isn’t with the smallpox vaccine.

If the weakened smallpox vaccine can cause a skin reaction on your arm where you got the shot, what is it going to do if it gets on a child’s skin that is irritated all over with eczema?

An 8-month-old boy with eczema vaccinatum.
An 8-month-old boy with eczema vaccinatum. Photo by CDC/Arthur E. Kaye

It’s a good thing that we don’t routinely have to use the smallpox vaccine anymore.

“Because persons with eczema are deferred from vaccination, only a single, accidentally transmitted case of EV has been described in the medical literature since military vaccination was resumed in the United States in 2002.”

Reed et al on Eczema vaccinatum.

And that it doesn’t happen with any other vaccines!

More on Eczema Vaccinatum

Should I Be Worried That My Kids Didn’t Get the Smallpox Vaccine?

Routine vaccination with smallpox vaccines ended in the US in 1972, a short time before smallpox was declared eradicated (1980).

Do you have a smallpox vaccine scar?
Do you have a smallpox vaccine scar?

It was also before the last case of wild smallpox was found (1977).

Why?

Because smallpox had been declared eliminated in North America long before (1952), following the last natural outbreak of smallpox in the United States (1949).

Should I Be Worried That My Kids Didn’t Get the Smallpox Vaccine?

Although smallpox has been eradicated, some folks still worry about it.

“There are now only two locations where variola virus is officially stored and handled under WHO supervision: the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention in Atlanta, Georgia, and the State Research Center of Virology and Biotechnology (VECTOR Institute) in Koltsovo, Russia.”

CDC on History of Smallpox

Of course, the concern now is not naturally occurring smallpox, but instead bioterrorism.

Could the smallpox virus be made into a weapon to be used in a bioterrorist attack?

We hope not, but if it was, none of us would be immune, not even the folks who were vaccinated long ago. The smallpox vaccine doesn’t provide life-long immunity.

So should you be worried?

“Some people have been vaccinated through the military or because they were part of Smallpox Response Teams that were formed after the 9/11 terrorist attacks.”

CDC on Why is Smallpox a Concern?

Almost certainly not.

Plans are in place if there ever was a smallpox attack and if necessary, there is actually enough smallpox vaccine stockpiled to vaccinate everyone in the United States!

More on Smallpox Worries

Which Vaccines Do You Get When You Join the Military?

The oral adenovirus vaccine is approved to prevent adenovirus infections in military populations.

Believe it or not, many vaccines are available that we don’t routinely get.

Some we only get if we travel, like vaccines for yellow fever and typhoid. Others we only get in high risk situations, like if you get exposed to a bat with rabies.

And one, the adenovirus vaccine, you can only get if you join the military.

Which Vaccines Do You Get When You Join the Military?

But don’t folks get a lot of vaccines when they join the military?

It depends…

Whether you join the Army, Navy, Air Force, Marine Corps, or Coast Guard, health personnel will evaluate your immunity status by checking your titers to routine vaccine-preventable diseases. So no, if you were wondering, it doesn’t seem like they just check the vaccine records that you might bring from your pediatrician.

And then once they assess your immunization or immunity status, you will get vaccinated:

  • upon accession – adenovirus, influenza, meningococcal, MMR, Tdap, and chicken pox
  • during the first or second half of collective training – hep A, hep B, and polio (if needed, although a dose of IPV after age 18 is required) and other vaccines based on risk

So, in addition to getting caught up on all routine vaccines that they might be missing, there are other “military vaccines” that they might need, including:

  • Adenovirus vaccine – given to enlisted soldiers during basic training
  • Anthrax vaccine – only military personnel with extra risk, although some civilians can get this vaccine too
  • Smallpox vaccine – only military personnel who are high risk and smallpox epidemic response team members, although some civilians can get this vaccine too

Which vaccines you get in the military might be determined by where you are getting deployed to.
Which vaccines you get in the military will likely be determined by where you get deployed.

Like the recommendations for civilians, other vaccines are mainly given to military personal if they have extra risk based on where they are being deployed.

  • Cholera – only military personnel with extra risk based on deployment or travel to endemic areas
  • Japanese encephalitis – only military personnel with extra risk based on deployment or travel to endemic area in Eastern Asia and certain western Pacific Islands
  • Rabies vaccine – pre-exposure vaccination is only for military personnel with animal control duties or with extra risk based on deployment, including special operations personnel
  • Typhoid vaccine – only military personnel with extra risk based on deployment or travel to typhoid-endemic areas and other areas with poor sanitation.
  • Yellow fever vaccine – only military personnel with extra risk based on deployment or travel to yellow-fever-endemic areas in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America.

These are the same vaccines that we would get if we traveled to high risk areas.

Military Vaccines in Development

It shouldn’t be a surprise that the military does research on infectious diseases and vaccines.

Members of the military are often put at great risk for known and emerging diseases, like Ebola, Zika, and malaria.

That’s why some vaccines might have been given as an investigational new drug in special situations, typically when “individuals who have a high occupational risk – laboratory workers, facilities inspectors, vaccine manufacturers and certain military response teams.”

These vaccines, which were initially developed at US Army labs, are no longer being produced, but have included:

  • Argentine hemorrhagic fever (Junin virus) vaccine
  • Chikungunya fever vaccine
  • Eastern equine encephalitis vaccine
  • Q fever vaccine
  • Rift Valley fever vaccine
  • Tularemia vaccine
  • Venezuelan equine encephalitis vaccine
  • Western equine encephalitis vaccine

Today, the Walter Reed Army Institute of Research (WRAIR) “is a leader in global efforts against the world’s most pervasive and high impact infectious diseases.”

WRAIR is working on vaccines for HIV, Ebola, MERS, and Zika.

What to Know About Military Vaccines

You will need some extra vaccines when you enlist in the military, but how many will depend on if you are up-to-date when you join and your area of responsibility. So there is no one-size-fits-all military immunization schedule.

More on Military Vaccines