Travel Vaccines: What You Need to Know and Where To Start
You’ve booked your flights, you’ve booked your Airbnb, you’ve even started to pack. You’ll all set to travel internationally, right?!
Woah, back up friend!
Way before this point, you need to consider something super important: travel vaccinations.
In case you are new to this, some countries have diseases and illnesses, almost always mosquito-borne, that you need to protect against before you go. It is VERY county and regional specific. It also changes, so the best resource is to check the CDC website. Check out this handy CDC Guide also.
This caught me a little bit by surprise as we were planning to travel to Asia, but not totally. My mom is a seasoned traveller and mentioned it to me a few times, so it lingered at the back of my mind.
A few things that DID surprise me, however, and these are thing I wanted to share so you also can keep in mind:
First of all, let’s just put it out there that this is a sensitive topic and very personal. Some moms are WAY fired up about vaccines in general. Coming from a biology major background, I’m all behind the science of vaccines and will always opt for them. If that’s not your thing, we disagree, but it’s your choice!
Vaccines while traveling are another level of personal choice! You have to decide if the risk is too much for you or not. Just because a disease exists in a country, if you are staying in a touristy, developed area the whole time, is it really a risk? Only you can really decide this.
Some vaccinations need to be done months in advance, or have a series of shots that need to be done months apart. Chris and I needed to get Hepatitis A (kids are up to date on this if you follow the normal vaccine schedule, which I know is a touchy subject for some). This required two shots at least 6 months apart. So we got our first shot in Utah and then our second in Hawaii before heading international. If we had flow international right away, this could have been a problem. Technically, you can get one before travel and then the second as you travel, but who wants to spend their time finding that?
Some vaccines have minimum age limits. Baby Grace did not qualify for meningitis and or typhoid when she was just one-years-old. This is a little freaky! If you baby is just breastfeeding or if you can bring baby food, that might be OK. However, she was in the rough spot of being too young for the shots, but old enough to be eating our food with us. We were told to not let her eat the classic “risky” foods, which include any fruit you cannot peel, lettuce, undercooked meats, local water, etc.
Some vaccines have different forms that depend on age. For example, typhoid can be given in a pill series and lasts for 5 years. OR it can be given as a shot and last for 2 years. The younger boys were too young to do the pill series (which is a nightmare in and of itself), so we waited to get them the shot in Hawaii right before we went to Asia. They will likely need a booster before we are done.
Some vaccines can make you kind of sick. The typhoid series is a great example. The pill series has to be taken EXACTLY at the same time every other day for a series of 10 days. We decided to do this at night, which would be the best time to be consistent and all at home. This meant we had to wake up Lucy and Grant to get them to swallow it. Once, Lucy accidentally started to chew the pill instead, which kills the live culture. We had to request an additional pill and go longer for her. It also made Chris and Lucy VERY sick. Lucy was so nauseous and had terrible stomach cramps she would end up in the fetal position on the floor for hours the next day after a pill. She even missed some school. Chris felt terrible also. However, Grant and I didn’t even notice the pills. So strange!
The vaccines can set you back some SERIOUS cash. Depending on your insurance and the ones you choose, the shots or pills can be $200-300 USD each! For our family of seven, we spent more than a thousand dollars in Hawaii for our remaining vaccines. It’s painful. However, I didn’t feel the risk was even close to worth it. This can be a big budget buster for your vacation (along with travel visas), so be sure to do your homework.
Some vaccines are required to enter a country and other are not. For example, I’m currently hoping we can travel to Tanzania in a few months. If we come from the US, we are not required by customs to have the Yellow Fever vaccine. However, it is still recommended to get and we won’t be coming from the US, so we likely will have to get it.
Now you are armed with a little more info, so where do you start?
Find your local health office. Your county likely has a health office and you can probably make an appointment. This is going to offer you nurses who work in travel vaccines and a clinic that will administer vaccines.
Alternatively, you can go through your doctor or pediatrician. I didn’t go this route because I didn’t want to deal with two different doctors for adults and kids (plus, we didn’t have a GP we loved). I am not sure if all doctors have or administer travel vaccines either, so I really do recommend the local health clinic!
Come to the health clinic or doctor with the counties AND areas/cities you will be in, when and for how long. This was a bit challenging for us and can be for other travel families that are “open-ended”. I was grateful we had our stops mapped out for all of Asia! I didn’t want to deal with this while on the road.
Know what vaccines you’ve already had! For kids, bring their vaccination records. For adults, do your best to figure out what you’ve had. If you’ve had a baby in the US, you may have had Tdap (I had it with two different babies). You may or may not have Hep A also.
The nurses will help you look up, if you haven’t already, what vaccines are recommended for those area you are traveling to and help you map out a schedule for your shots/pills.
If possible, check in advance with our health insurance on what they may or may not cover. I like calling my health insurance about as much a stepping on a nail, so I didn’t do this and expected to pay out of pocket. We had a massive deductible anyway and were used to paying out of pocket for everything. We were pleasantly surprised to find out a few of the shots we got at the health clinic were covered by our insurance (while others were not). There can also be subsidized payments for vaccines, depending on where you are. In Hawaii, some of our well-child shots for Grace were subsidized since we were technically uninsured.
If you need shots during your travels, map out when and where you will get these. For example, I knew all my kids would need their well-checks and vaccines in Japan, so we booked an appointment at an international clinic right at our arrival. In case we needed to come back for some reason (which we did- they didn’t have one of the vaccines in stock for Lucy), we would have time for that.
In case you are curious about which vaccines we got for Asia, here is our list:
• Hep A
• Japanese Encephalitis
What we did NOT get:
Malaria. Technically, Bali was a risk zone for this, but we opted out. It is really a hassle (as in you have to take a pill daily) and can have terrible side effects (nightmares being a big one). I read some reviews and found very few cases in Bali, so we risked this and were OK. We did try our best to prevent mosquitos.
Rabies. If you opt for the rabies vaccine, which is VERY expensive (like around $300 per person), you STILL need to get a shot right away if bit. I didn’t want to shell out a couple thousand when we would need a shot anyway (it does offer some benefits to get it in advance, but we declined.)
I hope this gets you on your way! Don’t let this part of travel scare you. It is a minor part and usually pretty low risk. Use your best judgement and enjoy your travels!