Travel Vaccines 101: Needle Know-How

When we travel, we leave behind our typical surroundings and head for more exciting frontiers. However, many people forget that this same adventure occurs on a microscopic level. Heading to a new place means that our bodies will be introduced to new viruses, bacteria or microbes and, for this reason, travel immunizations are key.

To better understand this necessity, we spoke to  Dr. David Shlim who has served as medical director at the Jackson Hole Travel and Tropical Medicine Clinic since 1998. Shlim gave us the run down on what you can expect and what you should know at your pre-trip doctors visit.

The Vaccines You Need
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has a tool that allows you to search for the vaccines you'll need based on the country where you're traveling. While many are routine (such as measles-mumps-rubella and chicken pox), others are for diseases we don't have in the United States. Commonly recommended vaccinations include typhoid and yellow fever—the later of which is required by many countries. Depending on where you're going, there may be additional requirements. For instance, to attend the Hajj in Saudi Arabia, visitors must be vaccinated for polio and meningitis. Make sure to be clear about your travel plans with your doctor, so he can make sure you get the vaccinations you need.

Know You Have a Choice
While some vaccinations are required, others are a personal choice and your decision to get them is based on your risk tolerance. Because practitioners will often over-recommend vaccines, it's important to know that you can decline them, Shlim said. For instance, you could pass on the immunization for Japanese encephalitis, which is recommended for people spending a month or more in Asia, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. While the disease is untreatable and potentially deadly (30 percent of those who catch it will die and another 30 percent will have permanent brain damage), just one in one million travelers will contract Japanese encephalitis. 

Multiple Shots at Once is Fine
If your doctor brings in a tray of needles, don't worry. The potential dangers of giving multiple shots have been well studied and there is no increased risk to your health, Shlim said. Still, if you receive the shots at the end of your visit, you will be asked to hang around for about 15 minutes to make sure you don't have a rare allergic reaction to the mix of microbes.

If you're afraid of needles, remember that you can always schedule multiple visits for your vaccinations, rather than having them all done at once.

Be Prepared to Shell Out the Dough
Most of the time, insurance will not cover your travel vaccinations. Given that you'll pay for your consultation as well as a series of vaccines that cost between $80 and $250 dollars a pop, you should be prepared to spend $300-$500 at this doctors visit. That said, you should remember that many of these vaccinations are an investment, Shlim said, and that some can last up to 10 years or even a lifetime. For this reason, you can think of these shots as being prorated.