As we celebrate Veterans Day, we are grateful for and honor all who have served in our nation’s Armed Forces. Too often in history we have called upon these brave men and women to protect our country and selflessly, they have put themselves in harm’s way. As fortunate as we are to protect our troops with the latest and greatest gear and ammunition, one of the greatest protections they are armed with are vaccinations. Since the late 1700’s, our troops have been vaccinated to not only protect them personally, but to help them accomplish their missions.
Vaccine preventable diseases were formidable forces that military members faced here in the U.S, and in deployments abroad, while fighting many wars throughout history. Many of those diseases still exist today, and are only a plane ride away.
Guess what produced over 5,000 casualties among 10,000 colonial troops during the Revolutionary War? If you guessed a weapon of mass destruction, you are wrong. It was smallpox. The disease was so devastating that George Washington decided to protect his troops against this feared disease by requiring variolation, the earliest form of vaccination. Decades later during the Civil War, smallpox again killed almost forty percent of the Union soldiers who contracted it.
Measles was another killer of troops in the Revolutionary and Civil Wars. Of the 660,000 soldiers who died in the Civil War, two-thirds were killed by uncontrolled infectious diseases. Measles alone sickened over 67,000 Union soldiers. Many developed complications such as pneumonia and encephalitis, and over 4,000 perished.
Yellow fever took the lives of over 5,000 soldiers during the Spanish American War, a startling number when compared to the few hundred who were killed in battle. The ongoing outbreaks prompted military efforts for further research and the formation of the Reed Yellow Fever Commission led by Walter Reed, an American army surgeon.
The tetanus vaccine became mandatory for US servicemen in 1941 during World War II and dramatically reduced the number of deaths that occurred after battlefield injuries. This paved the way for routine immunization of civilian populations and has resulted in the decreased incidence of tetanus cases, and deaths.
Over 17 vaccines are now required by the United States military, and their researchers and scientists have invented, developed, and improved vaccines against more than 20 diseases. The military’s view is simple - vaccines keep our troops healthy. And by staying healthy, service members can help accomplish their mission and return home safely.
Immunization requirements often exceed those for civilian adults, because of the travel and other occupational hazards confronted by soldiers, marines, sailors, airmen, and the coast guard. Today’s military recruit is vaccinated during basic training with all routine immunizations (if not already vaccinated in chlldhood). Depending on personnel type, or assignment/deployment location, a service member may receive additional vaccines such as Japanese encephalitis, rabies, smallpox, typhoid, anthrax, and yellow fever to provide increased protection.
For over two centuries, we as a nation have endeavored to protect the health of our armed forces to help them carry out their missions through vaccination. The best trained force with the latest in technical weaponry cannot perform well unless it is healthy. We owe every man and woman in uniform the very best protection we can provide.