Saturday, February 13, 2010

Travel shots

Way back when getting a court date seemed like a dream I thought I would kill time by taking care of our travel shots. I researched the Yahoo groups, I read the agency's guidebook. I learned--nothing. I thought my questions were pretty simple:

1. Where do we go to get our shots?

2. When should we go to get them?

3. What shots do we need?

4. How much do they cost?

I could find no cut and dry answers. I now know there are no cut and dry answers. For those of you with the same simple questions I had, I pass along our experiences and our mistakes. If you're not traveling to Ethiopia, STOP READING. This is REALLY BORING stuff. If you still need your travel shots, I hope this helps.

1. Where do you go to get your shots?

Go to a government-run travel clinic. That's my advice. Our county health department has a travel clinic. Probably yours does, too. If you don't know, ask your doctor. That's how we found out about ours.

There are for-profit travel centers, too. They even have them in Walgreens. But Walgreens, at least, costs more.

Here's what happened to us: the government-run clinic charges a $50 fee to advise you on what shots you need. Our sneaky plan was to have me go to the clinic, find out what shots we needed, and then have Pat go to Walgreens because they don't charge you a fee if you already know what shots you need. Clever, yes? WRONG. Walgreens shots are more expensive than the government-run clinic, even when you add on the $50 fee.

2. When should you go to get your shots?

More than a month before you travel. If you need Hepatitis shots, you have to get at least two of them before you travel, and you have to space them out by at least a month.

3. What shots do you need?

It depends.

-It depends on your own personal immunization history. Pat and I didn't have our shot records from childhood or anything like that, but the clinic was able to tell by our birthdates what shots we would have had (they also asked if our parents had been conscientious about having our shots done).

-It also depends because some travel clinics give different advice than others. For example, our clinic said we should get a typhoid shot but not meningitis. My mom's clinic (in another state) told her to get meningitis but not typhoid. Both were reading the same literature. Both interpreted it differently. Who's right? I don't know. Is this disconcerting? Yes. Do I know what to do about it? No.

-If you're taking your children to Ethiopia with you, make sure they are up to date on their regular shots. The kids didn't need most of the shots Pat and I needed because they got them as part of their regular immunization schedule.

These are the shots we got:

PAT AND MICHELLE'S SHOTS (6 shots each):

-yellow fever (but only because we are leaving Addis Ababa. Our clinic said that if we were staying in the city, we DID NOT need this shot)
-typhoid (you can get this as a shot or take it orally. The oral one if effective for a longer period of time. Both cost the same)
-Twinrix (Hepatitis A/B combo). This is when you need to know your immunization history because you may have already had this. We hadn't.
-Adult Tdap (tetanus, diptheria, whooping cough). Again, you need to know your immunization history on this one. I think you're supposed to get a new one every 10 years.
-Adult IPV (polio). Again, depends on immunization history

Shots we DID NOT get:

-Adult MMR (measles, mumps, rubella). The doctor said based on our childhood immunizations that we would still have immunity for this
-Meningitis: as I said above, our travel clinic said because we wouldn't be there for an "extended period" that we didn't need this.

In addition to the shots:

-the travel clinic prescribed malarone pills for malaria because we are leaving Addis Ababa. If we stayed in the city we wouldn't need them. There are several different types of malaria pills. The ones we got are supposed to have the least side effects. They are also, unfortunately, the most expensive. I read on the Yahoo board of lots of folks who don't take any malaria pills. Our daughter and several other children from Durame have had malaria. So, clearly it's down there. We didn't want to chance it.
-we also asked our doctor to prescribe Cipro (antibiotics). This was recommended on the Yahoo boards for if you get diarrhea on the trip

WESLEY'S SHOTS (Wesley is 13-almost)(3 shots total):

-from the travel clinic
-typhoid (actually, this was oral, not a shot)
-yellow fever (we got this for him because at the time we weren't planning on taking my mom and Everett with us. Now, we are, so Wesley is staying in Addis with them when we go to Durame. So he didn't really need this shot. Yes, he was mad.)
-he was up to date on polio, hepatitis, and tetanus through his regular immunization schedule.

-from his doctor:
-meningitis (he was due for this)
-chicken pox (he was due for a booster)

-in addition to the shots
-prescription for Cipro (see above)

EVERETT'S SHOTS (Everett is four)(4 shots total):

-from the travel clinic
-typhoid (he had to have the shot, he was too young for the oral version)
-he DID NOT need any of the other shots we got because he's not traveling out of Addis and the rest are already part of his regular immunization schedule.

-from his doctor
-the doctor recommended he get his kindergarten shots (3 of them) now because they include boosters for meningitis, polio, tetanus, hepatitis--all the ones we got)

-in addition to the shots
-we had his doctor prescribe an antibiotic for him for possible diarrhea but he's too young for Cipro so she prescibed azithromycin.

Grand total 19 SHOTS

4. How much will it cost?

A LOT. Be prepared to shell out boatloads of cash. And no, your insurance probably won't cover most of it. Our insurance covered: ZILCH. I did find out after the fact that if we'd gotten the tetanus shot during a well-visit at our doctor's they would have covered it.

Here's how much we paid:


travel clinic counseling fee: $50
Twinrix (hep a/b combo): $130 ($65 per dose--I've had two doses)
Adult Tdap (tetanus etc.): $50
Adult IPV (polio): $45
typhoid: $60
yellow fever: $90
malarone pills (malaria): $90
cipro: nominal fee. I think it was $10

Pat: (same shots as Michelle but some of them at Walgreens) $582


travel clinic counseling fee: $20
yellow fever: $90
typhoid: $60

cipro: $10


travel clinic fee: $0 (they gave us a break)
typhoid: $60
antibiotic: $10

So, grand total: $1,357 (if I added right) Now, there's the real OUCH right there.


  1. Oh my gosh, thank you so much for this post! I've been sitting here scratching my head wondering what I was going to do.
    Thanks for the advice and wonderful information! Plus a heads up on the cost... I kept asking and all I would here is expensive.

    Happy travels!
    Leah Ann

  2. This is all great info. We paid $1,150 for our 1st visit...our 2nd visit is actually tomorrow...I'm guessing it'll cost around $300 for that visit. We were fortunate enough to get $830 reimbursed by our insurance company though...very fortunate for that.

  3. Oh. MY. Goodness.

    Thanks for writing this. I really had no idea how much these "expensive" shots were. I don't think I will take malaria pills because I get nauseous at the drop of a hat and I don't want to be miserable. Maybe I'll be packing OFF???