Medical helps prevent the flu amongst service members through ‘teamwork’

By Shaun Eagan DLA Troop Support Public Affairs

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If service members avoided the achy muscles, runny nose or fever symptoms that often come from the flu virus by getting a seasonal vaccination, they can thank the Defense Logistics Agency Troop Support for keeping them from getting sick.

The Medical supply chain made approximately 3.4 million doses of the influenza vaccine available at military treatment facilities and U.S. Navy Fleet clinics around the world in support of the Department of Defense’s Influenza Vaccination Program. For nearly a year, Medical worked with DLA Distribution and representatives from the Defense Health Agency and each military service to ensure program success during the 2018-2019 Influenza Season.

“The [DOD] Influenza Vaccine Program is an extremely complex operation, where no one component is more important than the other...without each partner in the process, it would never succeed,” Dana Dallas, Medical cold chain program manager, said. “[All the partners] work extremely hard, over long days, overcoming every obstacle to ensure the warfighter and our treasured beneficiaries get the care they need...and we do a great job at it.”

Medical representatives, logistics counterparts, and DHA partners conducted an after action review Feb. 5 at Fort Detrick, Maryland to discuss their efforts and results of the program. Medical credits the program’s success to teamwork.

“Every team member is dedicated to the success of the program and focused on meeting every deadline; ensuring a successful flu season,” Theresa Rucci, Medical Pharmaceutical Distributor integrated support team chief, said.

The program’s goal was to have a 90 percent DOD compliant rate by Jan. 15. Medical and its partners were so successful that the DOD exceeded its goal with a 92 percent compliant rate, according to Rosalyn Brown, a DHA communications synchronization chief.

In addition to preventing the flu, the vaccine is viewed to be as important as other DOD protective items.   

“The influenza vaccine is [one of the] ‘personal protective’ items issued to service members,” Dr. Jay Montgomery, DHA’s North Atlantic Regional Vaccine Safety Hub Immunization Healthcare Branch Medical director, said. “Employed with other hygiene measures, the military’s influenza vaccination program has demonstrably improved operational effectiveness of active duty personnel and decreased morbidity and mortality among the broader Department of Defense’s beneficiary population.”

Rucci says the annual program relies on Medical working with its partners to coordinate delivery of the vaccines. Medical is responsible for contracting, which includes awarding contracts and placing delivery orders, in addition to cold chain management, which includes providing technical input for packaging, tracking shipments and coordinating with customers.

Every January, the Pharmaceutical Manufacturer and Distributor Division begins procuring the vaccines and becomes the main point of contact for the services and vendors, Rucci said. Once the contracts are awarded, the Supply Support Division creates the vaccines’ ordering information.

Because the vaccines have a sensitive shelf life, the contracts require staggered deliveries to the DLA Distribution Depot Susquehanna Pennsylvania throughout the flu season. Once the vendor starts delivering vaccines to the depot, communication and coordination becomes vital.

“After the contracts are awarded it is imperative that the teams work together to ensure the close coordination of the shipments,” Dallas said. “The [influenza] vaccine is extremely temperature sensitive and cold chain shipping protocols must be maintained. All members of the team communicate very well with each other; always sharing information, details about customers, shipments, deliveries etc.”

By August, the Collective Customer Facing Division works with the DDSP in distributing vaccines from the depot to the customers. The DLA Troop Support Business Process Support office also gets involved to help with delivery efficiency and effectiveness.

Depending on customers’ availability, the delivery process can run until March. However, once the next January comes around, most of the deliveries are complete and the program comes full circle as the procurement process starts all over again for the upcoming flu season.

Although the program was a success, there were some challenges.

During the 2018 flu season, the program lost more vaccines than it did in 2017, due to weather and mechanical refrigeration related issues according to Jenna Wesolowski, a Medical contracting officer. However, because the program’s planning incorporates the need for extra quantities, known as “reship doses,” service members were not negatively affected.

“The flu team in Medical, on both the supplier and customer operations sides, does an outstanding job supporting the warfighter’s annual requirements,” Alexander Quiñones, Pharmaceutical Manufacturer and Distributor Division chief, said. “Each year, there are always new challenges that present themselves, but I am always confident that the team will overcome anything they face and provide the best possible outcome to our customers worldwide.”

Wesolowski said the success of the Influenza Vaccination Program would not be possible without the relationship that Medical has with DLA Distribution.

It is a shared sentiment.  

“The relationship built between Troop Support and Distribution has always been based on dedication to mission success and mutual respect,” Robert Garrettson, a DLA Distribution Shelf Life Special Commodities team lead, said. “The [cold chain management] teams rely on each other’s professional expertise to provide the highest levels of customer satisfaction. Beyond seamlessly executing the influenza vaccine mission annually, both [major subordinate commands] work to enhance the program in an effort to achieve cost savings and better service.”