Immunizations: Saving lives one shot at a time
MISAWA AIR BASE, Japan -- The U.S. Air Force operates hundreds of medical facilities around the world staffed by arguably some of the best medical professionals available including the aerospace medical services technicians serving at Misawa Air Base, Japan.
Working in nearly every aspect of the 35th Medical Group's mission, these Airmen are extremely versatile and are given opportunities to specialize in other areas of their career field, including allergy and immunizations.
However, in order for an aerospace medical services technician to work in the immunizations clinic, they must complete a five-week, continuing education course at Walter Reed National Military Medical Center in Bethesda, Maryland.
"This course trains us with the skills necessary to become a qualified medical care giver in administering vaccines to all services members," said Senior Airman Taryn Mendoza, an allergy and immunizations technician with the 35th Medical Operations Squadron and a Pocatello, Idaho, native.
The class also qualifies them to work with pediatric children as well as assisting allergen extenders (doctors) in the diagnosis and treatment of patients with allergic and immunologic disorders, she said.
"We give vaccines that prevent disease to people of any age or federal service," Mendoza said. "Even if you don't think you'll ever contract a disease, these vaccines can truly save your life. If you're already vaccinated you may never know if you came into contact with one of these deadly diseases because we made sure you'd be safe."
Military duty requires service members and their families to work and live in many different countries and environments around the globe, each with their own types of diseases.
"If you aren't vaccinated before moving to a new country, you have a very good chance of catching that country's diseases, even if you were vaccinated for a similar strain in the states," said Staff Sgt. Cherie Gregory, also an allergy and immunization technician with the 35th MDOS and a Tampa Bay, Florida, native.
Gregory said, however, that as long as a member's immunizations record remains up-to-date for every move or mission, they should be well protected for most environmental situations.
In addition to their vaccination offerings, the clinic offers immunotherapy, which is a type of allergen treatment that requires the injection of allergenic material into a patient's arms on a regular basis. The body responds by gradually decreasing its sensitivity to these allergens.
"We inject a person with what they're allergic to and gradually build up to a very strong concentrated dose," Gregory said.
The process may take anywhere from three to seven years, depending on an array of criterion including the patient's own genetic makeup.
"Immunotherapy is the only available treatment that can modify the natural course of the allergic disease by reducing sensitivity to allergens," Gregory added. "If you're interested in the therapy, you'll need to speak with your primary care manager first."
But if vaccines, needles and immunotherapy aren't your thing, consider this:
"With that shot, we may have just saved your life," said Mendoza.
For more information or to make an appointment, call the immunization clinic at DSN 226-6192.
[Editor's note: This story is part one of a four-part series highlighting the 35th MDOS's primary care flight.]