Why would we want to go to places that have such horrible diseases?

That was the honest question from our 6 yr old, as the nurse and mummy discussed travel vaccinations at our local GP!

The vaccination schedule can take up to 5 months to complete, so you have to start early on the most unpleasant part of planning for a long term trip.

Nurse Notes

To be fair we had not divulged a great deal about our adventure yet to him, as we didn’t want to distract him too much from school, and we hadn’t yet notified work, school, friends…most people.

Travelling into remote places means that we’ll encounter some bad bugs and diseases.  Yellow Fever, Hepatitis, Rabies, Meningitis….some real nasties still exist in the world.  Fortunately, there’s a shot for that.

Figuring out what shots we needed seemed pretty simple at first:

Step 1: Look up country

Step 2: Find out what horrible diseases are in that country

Step 3: Find out if you can get a shot for that

Step 4: Bare your arm (or thigh in the case of the kiddos), grit your teeth, and take the jab.

In reality, it turned out to be slightly more complicated than that.  Four months after we started, and over £1000 poorer, we are nearly finished with our immunity armour. (Note: We looked up prices for some of the vaccinations in the US vs. UK and they were 10x the price)

Research

I (Mark) am the researcher in the family, and I started by looking at the NHS website for recommended vacciations for locations.  It’s informative and great if you are going to 1 or 2 places as it has a page for each, but if you are travelling to a large number of countries, then clicking in and out of each country page one at a time quickly becomes more painful than the jabs themselves.

There are abundant resources available on the net, and we found the nurse at our local GP to be most informative about how to undertake the schedule we needed.  Below are vaccinations we’ve gotten, and some insight into the experience.  We’re not doctors and this should not be considered medical advice! 

DTP: Diptheria, Tetanus, Polio

To be honest, I know little about the first, only how you may catch the second, and a bit about the third from history.  The three come in one concoction, and are recommended for all.  This one is free on the NHS so getting it is a no brainer!

Kids will have had this from their usual vaccinations, and who hasn’t had a Teatnus shot?  They’re only good for 10 years, so you’ll need a booster if it’s been a while since you stepped on a rusty nail.

Hepatitis A & Typhoid
Two more baddies you don’t want to get.  Hep A is spread via poo.  Yes, poo.  I got that medical terminology from the NHS website.  Typhoid also lives in poo, so best to get this if you’re travelling somewhere with questionable sewage.

The good news.  Both are free on the NHS, and they’re one shot and done.

Hepatitis B

Hep B is the one you get from bodily fluid – which can be blood or other bodily fluids – if you know what I’m saying.  This one you have to pay out of pocket for, and requires three jabs over two months, so plan ahead for this one.

We got the first one on the same day as Yellow Fever, and felt pretty rubbish for a couple of days after.  Not sure which one was the culprit, but achy and fluey was certainly a side effect.

Update: As of July 2017, there is a global shortage of Hep B.  Our GP saved back the paediatric doses for Austin, but Shalena and I stalled out after our first round.  

Rabies
The first thought that comes to mind is ‘Cujo‘, a B movie from the 80’s about rabid dogs.  I think I only saw the previews for it but the images have forever been connected in my mind.  We’ve learned that rabies is really very nasty, and a real risk when travelling — especially for kids who might put their hand out for a cute little bunny and end up gravely ill. Finding yourself infected without having been vaccinated, and you’ll need immediate medical attention if you’re not keen on keeling over within 24 hours.  With the vaccination, you are not totally immune but you get a longer window in which to seek medical help.

Rabies requires three shots over one month, and it costs about £60 for each one.   The question is a matter of risk.  With our travel agenda of trekking and general wildernessing, we decided it is wise to get vaccinated.

Yellow Fever *
This one was the only “must have” to visit certain countries predominantly in South America.  Although travelling direct to any country from somewhere like UK or Australia you would not need to show a YF certificate, going between countries on the continent itself you could be asked to produce it before crossing the border.  

The shot made us feel fluey for a few days, so I’d recommend getting it on a day when you have a few days of downtime following.  You’re given a little yellow fever certificate, small enough to fit inside your passport.  DO NOT LOSE THIS BOOK!

MMR
This one hadn’t come up on our radar as its not listed on any travel vac sites or NHS specifically.  Obviously Austin has had his MMR shots already as part of general childhood vaccination, and my thoughts were only ever that its a child’s ‘thing’.
I knew the system for proactive child health back in Australia in the 70’s would have been less ‘educated’ than it is today, and that was confirmed with a quick email with mum back home who advised that MMR wasn’t given to any of us (and I did in fact get measles quite badly as a baby.)  Five years later in Texas, Shalena was vaccinated, so it’s only me, Mark, who had to get an adult sized MMR to catch up.

Meningitis ACWY

The risk of the four strains of meningitis mixed into this jab is genuine in developing countries, so we’ve opted for this one as well.  It’s another one with a price tag, so best to discuss with your doctor or nurse.

While the price tag for all of these jabs for a family of three can be a bit eye watering, our risk assessment of our activities and locations led us to make the decisions we made – after discussing thoroughly with the practice nurses at our local GP.  They have been amazing throughout, and really took the time to discuss our travel plans and create a vaccination schedule that got us where we needed to be.

It took three months to complete the schedule, so definitely plan ahead, and Shalena kept a detailed spreadsheet of who had what, when, and what was next.  The hardest part was getting the appointments booked when we needed them.  And definitely definitely consult a medical professional before you get started.

About the author: Mark

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