Vaccines are just one of those things that every traveler needs, but nobody wants to get or pay for. The farther afield you venture, the more vaccinations you will need. SouthEast Asia may be a common backpacking destination, but that does not preclude the necessity for preventive vaccinations.
Canada's universal health care system is truly great for most health issues, and for the most part I wouldn't change it. But one thing that is not covered is what Manitoba Health considers travel medicine. This means that any visits to a doctor for vaccinations, prescriptions or consultations are not covered. My trip to a local travel medicine clinic marked the first time in my life I have ever paid to visit a doctor, though it is still hard to argue with a $45 charge for the first visit and $20 for each follow-up.
Through my own research, I had concluded that I would need to be covered for Hepatitis A & B, Typhoid, Polio, Rabies, and Japanese Encephalitis. In addition, I took the opportunity to be vaccinated against H1N1 and the seasonal flu late last year.
Prior to my visit to the travel clinic, I did talk to a walk-in clinic doctor and was not impressed by his lack of knowledge. He also wasn't able to prescribe the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine. This is where a travel clinic really becomes useful; not only are they knowledgeable and travel-trained, but they have all the vaccines on hand so there is no need for a trip to the pharmacist.
My goal going in was to be covered against only what I needed, with the ultimate goal of keeping costs down. I received the Twinrix vaccination for both Hepatitis A & B. Though it does appear expensive at first, it does cover me for almost a quarter of my life and is much more cost effective than separate shots for A and B.
I had two options for Typhoid, a shot that would cover me for 3 years, or a few pills that would cover me for 7 years. At only $5 more, the pills were a bargain.
Perhaps the biggest advantage of using the travel clinic was that I was advised against some vaccines, allowing me to keep costs down. The Rabies vaccine is not only expensive at $800, but not necessary unless I were planning for close contact with wild animals. I was also advised against the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine, as it shouldn't effect me, and the vaccine itself may be largely ineffective.
I had overlooked the need for other types of preventative medicine, but the staff at Skylark Medical Clinic made sure that I was aware of the risks for Malaria and travelers diarrhea. They suggested a daily pill for Malaria prevention, but I refused in order to keep costs down. As a result, I did get very frank advice on what to do if I develop a fever. Without this advice, I would have likely just stuck out any illness I contracted rather than seek help; a potentially life saving nugget of information. If I do start to run a fever in Asia, I will seek medical help within 24 hours, in accordance with her advice.
In the likely event that I am hit with a bout of traveler's diarrhea, I received a double prescription of Zithromax. Ciprofloxacin is the standard prescription, but is less effective in Cambodia. I hope I never need to use it, but at least I'm covered.
All told, my vaccinations and medicine only cost me about $250, which is much less than I had expected. Much more valuable then even the vaccines was the advice I received. The staff knew what I needed and were familiar with the region I was visiting. They made sure that I was educated and had the right information. I can't recommend the services of a travel clinic enough to anyone planning a trip abroad.
Below is a chart of the vaccinations I received and several online resources for vaccinations.
- Center for Disease Control
- Travel Canada recommended vaccinations
- Vaccinations for a round the world trip
This post does not constitute medical advice. Be sure to consult a medical expert when deciding which vaccinations and/or prescriptions you should get for your trip. All prices in this article are in Canadian Dollars.