The Skinny on Vaccines: Everything You Need to Know

Person receiving a vaccine

[Jeffrey Hamilton]/[Digital Vision]/Thinkstock

I’m leaving for Uganda in less than two weeks, which can only mean one thing. It’s vaccine time. I hate vaccines because I hate getting shots. I know, I know. It doesn’t hurt and it’s good for me and blah blah blah. But if you can look me in the eye and tell me you enjoy going to the doctor’s office and getting a shot of yellow fever then you are far more hardcore than I am. Good for you. For the rest of us, vaccines are an unpleasant but necessary part of traveling. Africa is cool. Typhoid is not.

Unfortunately for the budget traveler, vaccines can cost a pretty penny and most are not covered by regular health insurance. Something about unnecessary risk. Bottom line, vaccines are important and though they’re easy to cut out when you’re pinching pennies or worrying about other arrangements for upcoming travels, getting your vaccinations in order is exceptionally important. Take the time to meet with a doctor or call a travel clinic six weeks before any upcoming travel to ensure that you have plenty of time to make arrangements for certain shots. Hep A and Hep B require multiple shots spaced over the timespan of a few weeks and the yellow fever vaccination needs to be injected 10 days before travel. If you don’t have that much time, call anyway. Getting one of a series of shots is better than none at all.

Which Ones Do I Need?
First off, be sure to visit the Department of State travel website to see which vaccines are recommended for your country of choice. In the case of Uganda, it’s pretty much everything, but the most important one is yellow fever. In some areas, you will not be allowed in the country unless you can provide proof of vaccination against certain diseases. I know it sounds lame, but yellow fever is serious business. You don’t bounce back from that.

Shop Around
While the prices for vaccinations are usually pretty standard, you can save yourself a few dollars by scoping out places in your area. If you’re not sure where to start and a Google search doesn’t yield inspiring results then call your city’s Department of Health to ask for a list of travel clinics in your area. If you live in a university town, definitely be sure to call the university health clinic. Many of them are open to the public and offer services at a reduced rate.

Free Health Clinics
If you’re eyeing the cost of the shots with a heavy heart and a weary sigh (yellow fever is anywhere from $120-150 plus the 30-50 bucks for the doctor’s fee), scope out free clinics. Hep A and Hep B vaccines or booster shots can usually be obtained for a significantly reduced rate at community or student health clinics. Some vaccines (like your tetanus shot) you can actually get at Walgreens. Call and check

Required versus Recommended
Obviously it’s better just to go ahead and get all of the recommended shots. It can’t hurt, right? But if that’s not an option then make sure to check off the required ones. Meet with your doctor or a physician at a clinic and have a frank discussion with them. At public and private clinics, most doctors or nurses will work with you to find the best option that accommodates your wallet, but gives you as much protection as possible.

Space Them Out
If the travel bug has gotten you, but dropping a thousand bucks to get all your vaccinations seems overwhelming, then make a list of vaccines and just space them out where paychecks allow. The travel bug is a good thing, other bugs, not so hot.

Required for Work or Study?
Obviously if you’re required to go somewhere for work or study, you should definitely make sure your employers are covering the cost of those vaccines. For students, check with your university clinic for options and if you have enough time before your departure, you can always try applying for travel grants to cover the costs of vaccines.

By Nikki Hodgson