10 Steps to Knowing What Travel Immunizations You Need

A major consideration when planning a career break or other extended travel through multiple countries is getting the appropriate vaccinations and pills.  Not only is maintaining your health one of the most important elements while abroad, but some countries require certain vaccinations in order to qualify for an entry visa.  The problem is, when we started researching the requirements, we were easily lost in a myriad of information which was sometimes contradictory.

Here, we share our 10 steps to a better immunization experience!

Step 1: Start early.  Certain vaccinations come in a series that may take 4-6 months to complete.

Step 2: Prepare a list of potential destinations.

Step 3: Go to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website and locate the Traveler’s Health section.   There are 3 categories of vaccinations: Routine, Required, and Recommended.  Routine vaccinations include childhood immunizations.  There are only a few Required vaccinations necessary for entry into certain countries or to obtain a visa.  Most of the time, the choice to be vaccinated is ultimately up to you, which are listed under the Recommended section.

Step 4: Go to a Passport and Visa Services website such as www.visahq.com and research visa immunization requirements by destination.  This may be different than what the CDC states.  For example, Brazil is listed by the CDC as a country where yellow fever risk is present, but a vaccination is not necessarily required for entry.  However, if your nationality requires a visa to enter Brazil, and you are coming from a yellow fever risk country, you will need a yellow fever vaccination as a visa requirement.

Step 5: Gather your immunization history, such as your childhood immunization records.  Questions that may be asked when getting your immunizations include: the last date of your tetanus shot, whether you received a Measles/Mumps/Rubella vaccination and booster, whether you’ve had chickenpox or not, etc.

Step 6: Schedule a consultation with a travel immunization clinic or specialist.  We scheduled a consultation due to the complexity of our travel itinerary.  The very thorough and informative 1.5 to 2 hour consultation cost $150 for the both of us.   Overall, it was a highly productive meeting to have a consultant break down 300 pages of travel documents into information we could use.  The consultant also gave us prescriptions for antibiotics, altitude sickness, and malaria, should we choose to fill them.

Step 7: Based on the information collected, make decisions on what immunizations and prescriptions you want/need.  This is the hard part.  Fortunately, many recommended vaccines overlapped between South America and Asia.  These included the Hepatitis A and B series, typhoid, and Japanese encephalitis.  We decided to go with all of the recommended vaccines because (1) we could afford it (2) mosquitoes love Akiko and many of the disease are mosquito-borne, and (3) the potential consequences of some of the diseases are severe.

Pills were recommended for malaria, altitude sickness, and antibiotics for traveler’s diarrhea.   None of the malaria pill options were ideal due to side effects and/or cost, but while we were mulling it over, we discovered that the newest medication, Malarone, was now available in generic form, reducing our out-of-pocket cost substantially.  Yellow Fever ended up being the only required vaccine for visa purposes.

Step 8: Research if medical insurance and prescription plans will cover part of the cost.  Depending on your existing health insurance and prescription plan, you may be able to get part of the cost covered.  We found we could update our routine vaccines (e.g. influenza, pneumococcal, chickenpox or varicella, polio, MMR, Td or Tdap, etc.) through our primary care physician for the copay cost.   We had our doctor re-write the prescriptions written by the travel immunization clinic so that our prescription plan would cover most of the cost.

Step 9: Map out a schedule on when immunizations need to be completed.  This will also help spread out the cost of some of the immunizations.   After all was said and done, all the prophylaxis cost upwards of $1,300 per person.

Step 10: Start somewhere.  Go get immunized and/or fill the prescriptions! 

Travel has always been their hobby, but recently, Mike Watkins and Akiko Kubo decided to “cash-in” on their dreams of taking a career break to travel around the globe after seeing close friends’ and family’s lives end too soon.  To avoid wondering what might have been, they are downsizing their comfortable lives into a backpack, and making way for opportunities undiscovered.  Follow their 8-month, round-the-world, adventures  on www.travelsabbatical.com or on Facebook.

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