ABOARD USS BOXER -- Deep into their workup cycle, Marines and Sailors of the 15th Marine Expeditionary Unit find themselves making more and more trips to the medical office for vaccinations.
Despite the moans and groans often heard from Marines when their name is called by a corpsman, they know each shot is ultimately for their own good and could very likely end up saving their life.
From week one in boot camp, Marines received their first dose of shots and from there the process just never seems to end.
But Hospital Corpsman First Class John C. Jucutan, the 15th MEU’s assistant medical planner, assures us that it is not only necessary but very beneficial.
Jucutan said that for all of the vaccinations given, it is not just some far out precaution, but because there is a fairly reasonable chance of service members contracting those viruses during a deployment.
The Japanese Encephalitis Virus (JEV) vaccination, a virus that causes swelling in the brain and is often contracted through dust, is only one of the vaccines required for deployment to the Western Pacific.
According to Jucutan, there have been approximately five reported cases of American troops contracting JEV while deployed to Japan.
Most of them happened when Marines went on hikes where dust is kicked up and inhaled by the Marines.
After the hike, they complain of symptoms symptoms such as headaches and double vision which are caused by the swelling of the brain.
“We aren’t just giving these vaccines because of the possibility of service members naturally contracting these viruses,” said Jucutan. “These vaccines are also to protect against the threat of these viruses being used as biological warfare.”
Jucutan said that the Anthrax vaccination has been given throughout the United States since the 1970s but was only recently introduced as a standard vaccine in the military when it was recognized as a threat after the September 11 terrorist attacks.
Another of the major vaccinations given to 15th MEU Marines and Sailors before deployment is small pox.
For the small pox vaccination, service members are injected with the live virus that actually turns into a small pox sore on their arm. The dose is intended to be small enough for each person’s immune system to build up a strong defense against the virus.
“Once your immune system has adjusted to the vaccine, you could basically walk into a ‘small pox cave’ and be completely immune to the virus,” said Jucutan.
One expected stop during the 15th MEU’s upcoming deployment is India. Jucutan said that according to studies, India has a high reported number of cases, which means increased exposure, hence the higher chance of it being contracted.
“We try to vaccinate all military members when we know we are going to India or any other third-world countries,” said Jucutan.
The Marines and Sailors who were part of the 15th MEU during deployment in late 2004 found out first hand how much each vaccine may come into play when they became the first major unit to assist in Operation Unified Assistance after a tsunami devastated Indonesia, killing more that 250,000 people.
The spread of disease became a major concern during the humanitarian effort and all service members that had the possibility of going ashore were given medical attention to help prevent Malaria and other diseases.
So despite the pain and discomfort each shot may bring, Marines and sailors of the 15th MEU know that a little pain now is better than the pain and discomfort that may result down the road without the vaccination.