In preparation for my upcoming trip to South America, I knew I had to look into getting travel vaccinations, but I had no idea where to start.
On a routine trip to the doctor, I spotted a ‘yellow fever vaccinations available here’ print out taped hastily on the front of the reception desk. Yes! Feeling excited that I could get this sorted without having to do any research, I asked my doctor whether they could sort out my vaccinations.
A month (and no less than 5 visits to the doctor) later, I finally have all my vaccinations, but boy do I wish I’d had just one person explain the whole process to me at the beginning so that I didn’t get so confused with what I had to do.
So my friends, here’s the process. It may be slightly different depending on how your doctor goes about it, but I recommend that you ask as many questions as you can when you first see the doctor to get a good idea of what you can expect!
If you have access to a travel vaccination clinic (ie. a medical centre that specialises in travel vaccinations) then I would highly recommend going there instead of a regular doctor. These clinics will usually have a doctor and nurse on hand, and have a stock of all the common travel vaccinations so that they can do most of the process in one visit. It might be a little more expensive, but if you value your time it might be worth paying a little extra!
If you’re getting your travel vaccinations via a doctor, here are the steps you’ll need to take.
Step 1: Go to the doctor
Find a doctor that specifies that they deal with travel vaccinations, as not all doctors do. Most of them will say so on their website or you can ask at the reception desk.
The doctor will ask what countries you’ll be travelling to. When I stated that I’d be heading to Fiji, Mexico, Bolivia, and Peru, they printed out an information sheet for each country which specified the essential and optional immunisations and other medications I’d need. They can then give you any prescriptions required for the immunisations.
Step 2: Get a blood test (optional)
Depending on the vaccinations you require, you may need a blood test. If your doctor says this is not required, skip to step 3.
I had the option of getting a Hepatitis B injection, but they would need to know whether I was already immune to Hepatitis B (for example, if I had have received the immunisation during my time at school, and if so, whether the immunity had worn off) before giving me the injection.
For this, I needed a blood test. This requires a referral to a pathologist. The medical centre I went to had a pathologist on hand, so I came back the next day to get blood drawn from my arm.
Here in Australia, staff members at medical clinics are not allowed to give you your results so you’ll probably have to go back to the doctor to receive them. They’ll tell you whether you have immunity for the disease, and if not (as in my case), they might give you yet another prescription for that immunisation.
Step 3: Collect medications from the pharmacy
I had no idea that I would have to actually purchase the immunisations myself, I figured they’d stock them all at the doctor. This was not the case! I had to take all my prescriptions to the pharmacy and collect my immunisations. You should also be able to collect any other medications that the doctor has advised.
Step 4: Get a nurse to give you the injections
The medical centre I went to had a nurse on hand to do this. So in yet another visit, I had the nurse give me the injections. Your doctor should advise you of where to go to get them.
As I needed three, she gave me two in one arm and one in the other, as apparently each arm can’t handle more than two injections.
If you’ve had travel immunisations before and have been given a yellow vaccination card, bring this with you. The nurse will update it if necessary.
Step 5: Confirm that you have everything you need!
Did you know that for yellow fever immunisations, you have to receive a yellow book that you take with you on your trip? Without it, you may be denied entry into the country you’re visiting.
I didn’t realise I needed this, and I noticed a few weeks later that my partner had one and I didn’t. So I went back to the doctor again, only to find out that they hadn’t actually given me the yellow fever injection in the first place. Basically I had misunderstood the process (because the flakes at the medical centre hadn’t explained it properly to me) so it somehow got missed. Imagine if I had have arrived in South America without the yellow fever immunisation!
So after 4 immunisations (with 1 more booster shot to come), I now I seem to be immune to almost every disease on the planet. The only things I’m not immunised for is malaria which can be prevented with pills that I’ll pick up before I go, along with some acclimatisation pills that I’ll need for the high altitudes.
I put this post past Jen of Thrifty Nomads (who is a registered nurse in Canada) to make sure I had all the correct information for getting travel immunisations. Jen has also posted a pre-departure checklist for healthy travel, which I highly recommend checking out before you leave!
Another good resource is the CDC travelers health website, which details what you need to look out for depending on which countries you’ll be visiting.