Do We Need to Get Vaccinated?
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We aren't medical experts, talk with your doctor to make sure you get the vaccines that are right for you. Some adults with specific health conditions should not get certain vaccines or should wait to get them.
Being born and raised in the United States, vaccinations beyond childhood vaccines are a pretty unknown subject for us. We know enough to know that we should probably get some additional vaccines. But which ones?
We began this process a couple of months before leaving the country. The CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommends starting 4-6 weeks before travel. After our experience however, the sooner you do it the better.
We started with our primary care doctor. We wanted a full preventative panel done before we left the country. So, among the many things we discussed with our very patient, helpful, and kind doctor, we asked about vaccines. The first question she asked, was if we had our childhood vaccines. That was surprisingly a difficult question to answer. Shannon knew it was very likely that she had everything that was required or suggested by her pediatrician, as she couldn’t imagine her parents opting out of any of them. Shannon also knew that she'd had a tetanus booster shot 3 years ago. Sergio hadn’t had a tetanus booster shot within the last 10+ years but he thought it was likely that his mother had done all the recommended vaccines for him as well. However, growing up well below the poverty line and un-insured, he couldn’t be sure.
Ultimately, our physician recommended that we go to a travel clinic. What a novel idea we thought. Having plenty experience with the American health insurance industry, and having heard of many billing nightmares, we called both the travel clinic and our insurance company to verify coverage and cost. We found out that anything billed to our insurance as travel related wouldn’t be covered. Glad to see that our premiums are going to good use (#sarcasm). You would think our carrier would prefer to pay for the vaccine over the treatment costs of yellow fever, but apparently not.
So, being the frugal 'go getters' that we are, we did our own research on vaccines. Confession: Sergio did the research on vaccines and then shared it with me.
First Step: Learn about Vaccines
There Are Two Kinds of Vaccines
- Routine vaccines. These are the ones you generally get as a child and are required to attend most schools. If you were born in a first world country and aren't a child of an anti-vaxxer, then you likely have received these vaccines.
- Travel vaccines. Traveling to other countries exposes your body to viruses that it hasn't been exposed to before. Many countries will recommend or even require that you get one or more specific vaccines before entering the country.
Now that we had a good idea about what routine vaccines and travel vaccines were, we wanted to know what our insurance company would cover. We spoke with the travel clinic and got a CPT code (Current Procedural Terminology) for each vaccine, both routine and travel. If you are unfamiliar, CPT codes are the medical diagnostic and billing codes that your medical care provider and insurance company use to bill all procedures and visits. Once we got all the codes, we called our insurance company and asked the level of coverage for each code. This is a tedious process, but it can prevent an unexpected bill from showing up a month (or several months) later for something you figured was covered.
We found out that our insurance would cover all of the routine vaccines. This is required under the ACA, so not a surprise. However, our insurance didn't cover a single one of the travel vaccines.
Getting Routine Vaccines
We're grateful that our insurance company covers the cost of routine vaccines. Out-of-pocket costs for routine vaccinations are upwards of $2,000 for the first round, plus $800 or more for boosters.
We decided that we'd go ahead and visit a local clinic to start the vaccination process. To find a clinic that did vaccinations we called our insurance company and customer service was kind enough to give us a few local places that were in-network. We found a clinic that was open 7 days a week, making it easy to work around our schedules.
When we arrived we spoke to the receptionist. Not surprisingly, our request for vaccinations left her confounded, since we're adults. She was kind enough to speak with the nurse, who after a series of detailed questions came out to speak with us directly. The nurse informed us that there was no harm in getting all of the routine vaccinations, even if we'd had them as children. While he didn’t think it was necessary, since we'd likely already received them, he said it would be fine to do it anyway. After 10 minutes of discussion and questions, Sergio opted to get all routine vaccinations, including Tdap (Tetanus and Diphtheria Toxoid). Shannon did all routine vaccinations except for Tdap (she’d had hers a couple of years prior).
All the vaccinations we got were shots in our arms, either in the fatty tissue or the muscle. Thankfully, neither Sergio nor I are afraid of needles and had no problem getting the shots. The nurse was kind enough to split the shots between our left and right arms. They stung a bit going in, but nothing to worry about. Shannon’s arms were sore for a few hours, while Sergio felt like he’d been slapped with a bat and was sore for days.
One of the main reasons that it’s recommended you get vaccinated 4-6 weeks before traveling is because many vaccinations require boosters. That means that in a set period of time you'll need to get a second (or third) shot. After all of our routine vaccinations, we’ll need to go back in 30, and 180 days for a set of follow-up shots.
Note: Tuberculosis (TB) vaccination is considered a routine vaccination. Unfortunately, this vaccination is not given in the United States. You can be tested for TB with a skin test. If it comes back positive, they will do an X-ray of the lungs to determine if you have an active infection of TB and follow it with treatment as needed. However, if you're test comes back negative for TB, there's no further steps you can take, at least not in the US. For comparison, other countries may offer a TB vaccination.
Many of the countries and regions we're visiting don’t require or even recommend certain vaccinations for travelers. However, there are some places we'll likely end up that do. It’s also important to keep in mind that countries that require specific vaccinations may also require you to show documentation proving you have been vaccinated. To find what countries require and/or recommend vaccinations, here are a couple of resources we found helpful:
Our health insurance won’t cover travel vaccinations. While at the clinic getting our routine vaccinations we asked what are the prices of travel vaccinations, like yellow fever, typhoid fever and Japanese encephalitis. This clinic didn't administer these vaccines and recommended we visit a travel clinic. Once home, we called a travel clinic for pricing. They ranged from $300-$600 for each vaccine injection.
We read up on blogs and forums to see what the consensus was on the cost in the United States versus Europe. (Confession: Sergio did the research). If you're a resident, these vaccines are generally free. While we're unable to find costs if you’re a visitor, we think they’re likely to be significantly less expensive in Europe.
Because we don’t need any of the travel vaccinations while in the large, heavily populated places in Europe, we’ve opted to wait on getting our travel vaccinations. Once we arrive in Europe we’ll investigate the specifics of getting our travel vaccinations.
What are your experiences with vaccinations? Leave us a comment!
Additional resources to get travel vaccinations:
- Passport Health
- International Society of Travel Medicine
- Center for Disease Control and Prevention – Find a Clinic