Travel Vaccines

My two oldest teens volunteer with a food bank.  Salmon from our state’s fish hatcheries that would otherwise go to waste is donated to the food bank.  It’s a huge task to clean and can the fish, but obviously worth doing.  The majority of the fish is given out locally, but a portion is shipped around the world.

By now, you’re probably wondering what this has to do with travel vaccines.  A dozen of the food bank volunteers will be going to Guatemala to do some disaster relief work (hurricanes, volcanos), including helping distribute some of the salmon that they’ve helped can.  My kids get to participate, and one of the requirements was for them to get the vaccines needed for travel to Guatemala.

We’ve learned some interesting things.

Where?

Where does one go to get travel vaccines?  I initially called our family doctor, but it turns out that he doesn’t do travel medicine.  It’s not cost-effective for him to stock every possible vaccine, so he suggests that people go to the health department.  That’s one option. 

There are some medical clinics that run a travel clinic; we found one that does travel vaccines two half-days a month.  With such limited access, slots fill up quickly, so it’s important to plan ahead. 

We also learned that some pharmacies give travel vaccines.  Your state’s health department website should have a complete list of places that provide travel vaccines.

Cost?

There will be both consultation fees and vaccine fees.  It’s expensive.  It’s also likely to be out-of-pocket.   Insurers figure that if you have the money for travel, you have the money for your shots.  Just consider it all part of the trip.  Ask before making any appointments, though.  Costs vary widely.

The health department here, I discovered, charges $140 to talk to someone about travel vaccines, plus the cost of the individual vaccines.  They don’t however, volunteer that information over the phone.  A few people in the group made appointments at the health department, and were shocked at the cost.

The family physician I found who holds a travel medicine clinic twice a month charges $215 plus the cost of the vaccines, but offers a discount for additional people in the group seen at the same time (only $125).  This place was up-front about the fees and made it clear that payment was expected at the time of service.

Pharmacies are definitely the least expensive option for a single vaccine.  You just tell them which vaccine you want and pay for the shot; there’s no extra consultation fee.

The vaccine fees vary widely, too.  A typhoid vaccine costs $99 at the health department, $56 at the FP’s travel clinic, and $75 at the pharmacy.

Which Shots Do I Need?

If you pay a travel clinic or the health department for a consultation, they should tell you which vaccines are appropriate.  Should.  Our group has discovered that different people were told different things, and that the shots given at the local health department depend on who happens to be working that day.  Not everyone received all the shots recommended by the CDC.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has excellent information online.  Anyone with internet access can learn which shots are recommended for the area to which they’re planning to travel.  In fact, the travel medicine doctor we saw gave the kids handouts that, it turned out, were printouts of the CDC’s website.

What About Prescriptions?

There’s more to travel than getting a few shots before you leave.  My kids will be in an area where malaria is a concern, so they needed a prescription for an anti-malarial.  It depends on which part of the world you’ll be seeing which anti-malarial(s) will be effective – fortunately, the CDC provides that information.

It’s the little things, though, that make me think it might be better to see a travel medicine doctor instead of the less expensive pharmacy-based-travel-vaccines – at least for the first trip or two.  The doctor my kids saw also gave them a prescription for a medication to take in case they get a case of traveler’s stomach, and a lot of good how-to-stay-safe-while-travelling tips.  The people in the group who got their shots at a pharmacy don’t have those just-in-case meds, and they didn’t get the helpful tips.

Contraindications

Check your medications.  Some prescriptions specify that you shouldn’t get vaccinated until you’ve been off the med for a while.  Thus, if I ever need to discontinue my mtx & biologic, I’m planning to get some basic travel vaccines while it’s possible.  The hardest part of seeing my kids go is knowing that if something comes up, I can’t go get a few shots and then hop on a plane to go help them.  Check your current medications carefully to be sure it’s safe to get travel vaccines.

Thanks for reading.  If you’re travelling, enjoy your trip.

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5 thoughts on “Travel Vaccines

  1. Fascinating and important info to have about those lifesaving vaccines, Socks. Thanks for sharing it with us.

    Your kids are doing some really good things for their own community, along for one that’s less fortunate in a far different culture and country. What a wonderful experience this will be for them–one that will deeply influence their entire lives for the better. (My daughter tells me that not a day goes by that she doesn’t remember, with fondness, her six years in Germany as a child. Her exposure to that culture, and that of the diversity found in the U.S. Army, have profoundly colored her view of the world–for the better. She’s an enthusiastic “world citizen.”)

    You and your husband are great parents, and you should be very proud of your children.

    BIG smiles and warm hugs for you. :D

  2. Yikes!! I feel that I should now instantly stop complaining about our National Health Service. (I won’t of course … but still …) I’m not sure what the situation is here exactly but certainly we can go to our NHS GP to get them, although maybe these days there might be a small fee.

  3. @Polly – We can always go to the health department, but I’d hoped to find something covered by our insurance. It makes sense, though, that if someone can come up with the money to travel, they can come up with the money for shots, too. If someone knows which vaccines they need, a pharmacy is going to be the least expensive place to get them.

    @Wren – :) Thank you. Your daughter sounds like a nice person, and I can imagine how living in Europe affected her. I have cousins who were raised in Germany, and it definitely shaped who they are and how they view the world.
    My kids phoned this morning. They landed at Guatemala City yesterday evening, then drove to Antigua – arriving around midnight. Today they’re headed to an orphanage, and weren’t sure what the rest of the schedule was since it’s changed (again). They sounded excited. Sure seems quiet around here with two people gone.

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