I thought travel health insurance, at a little over $2,500 for the two of us, was going to be our most expensive pre-trip expense. Boy, was I wrong: it’s vaccinations, by far.
The culprit? Mosquitoes. Stupid, horrible, thirsty little pests that spread a whole host of terrible diseases. Spend more than a couple weeks around them, and you need to take some pretty serious precautions. Couple that fact with the risk of poor sanitary conditions and/or hygienic practices (i.e., someone preparing your food with poop on their hands), and you end up with friggin’ expensive-as-hell vaccinations. If vaccines were a review on Yelp, they would read, “Worth it, but $$$$!”
Before I continue, let me explain how much I hate mosquitoes. I grew up in Alabama, and in case you’re not aware, that place is filled with them. In the film Sweet Home Alabama, the character Earl Smooter calls them the “state bird of Alabama.” That’s a joke, but it also isn’t — they are, literally, everywhere.
In addition, I am a born redhead with very fair skin and, myth or reality, I think that makes me more visible to them or something. If there’s a mosquito around, it’ll find me.
Anyway, back to the vaccines. At first we thought getting our shots in Canada might be cheaper, so we booked an appointment at a Passport Health in London, Ontario, where we were visiting family over Christmas. During the visit, about two hours long, we learned that some of our vaccines require two or more shots over multiple visits. It didn’t make sense to start those since we weren’t planning on being back in Canada any time soon. In the end, we paid for the consultation fee ($75/person), got one vaccine (Typhoid Fever), and bought two rounds of antibiotics, for a total of $350.
This, my friend, was just the beginning.
When we got back to Atlanta, we went to Highland Travel Medicine (a great place, by the way), where we had to pay another consultation fee ($70/person) and got two additional vaccinations, a prescription for Malaria, some anti-nausea meds, and another for Traveller’s Diarrhea (boy, that will be some inevitable fun!). Here’s how that all breaks down:
- Hepatitis A (HepA): $110/person. HepA is a liver disease passed via food or water that is contaminated with, you know this one! …the faeces of an infected person. EWWWW. (Typhoid Fever is also transmitted this way.)
- Japanese Encephalitis (JE): This one is super fun. It requires not one, but two shots per person (a month apart) at $330 per shot. WTF?! Are you sure we need this one? Well, turns out, yes, it’s necessary. I had never heard of this one before, so I looked it up. It makes your brain swell, which — contrary to what you might think — isn’t a good thing. According to the CDC, one in four people who contract JE die. Better yet, “[a]lthough some symptoms improve after the acute illness, 30%-50% of survivors continue to have neurologic, cognitive, or psychiatric symptoms.” Okay, so maybe it’s necessary. We aren’t taking this chance, anyway, no matter how small. So I handed over my new travel AMEX for this $1,320 expense.
- Malaria: Oh, malaria, how I hate you and your prevention expense! To avoid this classic, each of us has to take a pill each day for two days before we enter any “affected areas” and then one more pill every day while we remain there. That doesn’t sound so bad until you realize that each pill costs $10. Since we will be in affected areas for at least 90 days, that means a lot of pills (180+ for you math-challenged folks), and consequently A LOT of money. Like, $1,800 a lot. Seriously. I want to KILL ALL THE MOSQUITOES.
But o! dear reader, there’s more. Neither Highland Travel nor the Passport Health office in Canada had any yellow fever vaccine on hand since, apparently, it’s in short supply in North America, so Highland referred us to Emory Travel. When we called them, they told us we would have to pay yet another consultation fee: $123/person. If you aren’t keeping track, that would mean we would pay over $500 total just to be told, multiple times, what vaccines we need. (Note: The CDC’s website does it for free.)
No way was I going to pay for another consult, so we found the U.S.-based Passport Health office close to us. Thankfully, they waived the fee since we had already paid at their sister office in Canada. Here we got yellow fever shots (did I mention this one is also carried by the national bird of Alabama?), plus two others they recommended. So now we can add a few more to the list:
- Yellow Fever: $245/person. Among other things, this disease can cause liver, kidney, respiratory, and other organ failure, “bleeding from multiple body sites,” and death. No wonder it’s in short supply…
- Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussia): $110/person. Now to be fair, most of us should have this vaccination every 10 years or so (or, it turns out, every 5 years if you travel a lot internationally). However, neither of us could remember whether we were up to date, so we thought we’d be better safe than sorry. Tetanus causes painful muscle tightening and stiffness, including your head and neck, so you can’t open your mouth, swallow, or sometimes even breathe. (Although Scott might be lucky if I get this one, specifically the part where I can’t open my mouth. —Connie)
- Influenza: $32/person. Not a huge expense, and everyone should get this every year, but it still adds up. (By the way, if you haven’t, go get the flu shot! The CDC says you shouldn’t use the nasal spray flu vaccine for the 2017-18 season.)
In addition to the above expenses, we will also have to buy some extras before we get to SE Asia and Central and South America: nets for our beds, a sh*tload of mosquito repellent that contains 30-50% DEET, and an additional heavy-duty insecticide called permethrin to spray our clothes — all to ward off those bloodsucking little beasties.
But guess what!? There are many other diseases carried by mosquitoes that DON’T HAVE VACCINATIONS! Yay!!
In total, here are our costs so far:
- Consultation fees: $290 ($75/person at Passport Health + $70/person at Highland)
- Typhoid fever: $200 ($100/person)
- HepA: $220 ($110/person)
- JE: $1,320 ($660/person)
- Yellow fever: $490 ($245/person)
- Tdap: $220 ($110/person)
- Malaria: $1,800 total (for 180 pills)
- Flu: $64 ($32/person)
- Plus some incidental costs for the nausea meds, antibiotics, and diarrhea, plus four trips (and counting) to get shots
For a grand total of around $4,600, not including those little “extras” we have to buy to ward off the great bird of AL. Still, it’ll be worth it, I’m sure.
Tips for vaccinations:
- Maybe just go to Europe? Americans don’t need any vaccines to travel there. 🙂
- If you must go to countries that require lots of expensive vaccines, spend two weeks or fewer there or else be prepared to spend a fortune (and have sore arms in the bargain).
- Before you go to get vaccines, take stock of the ones you’ve already had. Ask your mom, call your doctor(s), or just, I don’t know, be better at remembering things? …this one isn’t super reliable, though, so when in doubt, get the shot.
- Do not pay multiple consultation fees!! Look on the CDC website to find out what vaccines you need, then find a travel vaccination facility close to you. Oh, and call them first to confirm they have ALL of them at their facility.
This is one area in which you shouldn’t skimp on expenses. We both agree that it’s better to pay the vaccination cost than to have the disease (which in America could cost you mucho grande $$$$$$$$). No Yelp review needed.
Connie & Scott