Travel prep: immunisations

I know, I know. SUPER FUN. Also: PRICEY. But then, it’s pretty hard to put a price on your health once you start thinking about it.

Sunrise and coffee at Big Cave, Zimbabwe
Not visible: the mosquitoes (and their diseases) I was not worrying about because I was prepared.

I recently scheduled my Hepatitis A booster so that the barrage of jabs I had before heading to Africa could be that much closer to fully effective. Once boosted, I will be covered for Hep A for 10 years. And 5 for Hep B, but I need to wait until January for that. I know this is utterly thrilling discourse but I like to see it as an excuse to take MORE TRIPS. Get my money’s worth. But let me back up a little.

When I booked my first trip that involved places where protecting your immune system was a prerequisite to being let in to the country, I knew it was gonna cost me, but I did NOT research much ahead. And that shit added up quick. Even with the straightforward, non-marketing-led advice of the doctors and nurses at the NHS travel clinic (‘You absolutely need THIS, don’t bother with this one, this other one is probably smart to have in your circumstances…’) I felt like it wasn’t something I should skimp on.

Some things were free on the NHS (I love you, NHS):

  • Tetanus, Polio, Diphtheria booster
  • Typhoid
  • Hepatitis A (including a booster 6 months later)

Some things were very not-free:

  • Hepatitis B series – series of 3 (not including booster in January 2015) – £46.79
  • Yellow Fever – £52.50
  • Rabies – Series of 3 intradermal at £21 each – £63
  • Malaria prophylactics – Malarone for entire trip plus 7 days after – £70.56

The good news is, a lot of these cover me for a long time. Yellow Fever and Hep A give you ten years. Hep B apparently gives you five.

Rabies protection isn’t necessary for another 10 years for travelers unless you’re going to a high-risk area. The rabies vaccine wasn’t mandatory, but since I was going to be camping, occasionally remotely, and around wild animals (yay!), I decided it was worth the extra protection. It doesn’t prevent the disease completely, it just gives you extra time to get to treatment if you get a bite. And the fatality rate of rabies is fucking 100% so, time is good.

Typhoid is only good for one year, but luckily it’s free. And the Tetanus, Polio, Diphtheria booster should technically be the last one I need, but if they recommended it at some point, it’s not like I’d say no.

In any case, that’s all £232.85. That does not include the cost of the buses (so many buses) to get back and forth to the million appointments at which all these were administered. It also doesn’t include things like hardcore mosquito repellant and a personal first-aid kit. That stuff maybe altogether cost around £40. And while I was lucky enough to not have to use much, I’m glad I had it.

One first-aid kit thing I would absolutely recommend saying yes to at the travel clinic is a pack of Ciprofloxacin. It cost me £10.50, and I did not have any gastrointestinal issues on my whole trip. I can honestly say that one or two times, that was thanks to this stuff. You basically take one dose the minute you feel any inkling that your insides might betray you, and it sorts you right out. And it REALLY DOES. So. Worth it.

Anyway, for Africa alone, this makes medical costs alone equal the cost of a European city break. And I imagine all of this is even more expensive in the US where you have to contend with medical insurance and jerkface pharmaceutical companies. But again, you have to weigh the cost against the potential of something nasty ruining your holiday. Or your life. Do the research ahead of time and budget it in and you won’t be quite so shocked as I was.

I did moan a bit about the cost to begin with, but honestly, the more annoying part was the logistics of all the appointments and timings of when doses needed to happen. Forget the money – if you’re going somewhere exotic, start scheduling your jabs as far ahead of time as possible so as not to suffer running around like mad in the entire two-month run-up to your departure.

The good news is, along with other pre-trip anxieties, the mad rushing about and the receipts with big numbers on them fade quite nicely into the hazy bits of the past that don’t matter once you’re on that trip. Because you took care of that stuff so you don’t NEED to think about it.

Next time around, obviously the longer the trip means the more I’ll have to figure out ahead of time. But at least I know to start now.

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