Don't let this vaccine delay your travel plan

Illustration by Megan Stewart

I’m a homebody. If I had a spirit animal, it’d be the opossum. It’s unfussy and eco-friendly in a garbage-eating and low-rabies-risk way. Like me, when it finds a place with food and shelter, it stays – unless, of course, something disrupts its nirvana.

For me, that something would be my husband, who has a travel bug.

Now the son, 25, shows signs too. He’s heading to the Amazon to work with endangered animals. The husband itches to go.

“It’s not like we can follow him around.” I pointed out the obvious.

“The boy might need us,” he said, knowing exactly how to rope me in. Having never properly cut the umbilical cord, I can’t say no.

The more beautiful and exotic the locale – like the Amazon and African savannas – the bigger, itchier, and scarier the medical needs. While the husband is looking for the perfect rain jacket, I’m preoccupied with a sure rendezvous with the deadliest animal in the world: mosquitoes.

Destination- and time-sensitive, travel medicine is complicated. Most medical precautions (like malaria pills) are recommended. But one vaccine is required for entry to parts of Africa and South America – it’s not COVID – it’s yellow fever

That means if you don’t have the little yellow card that’s proof of the yellow fever vaccine, you can’t enter these countries. It’s required for all people over one year old. There are medical exemptions but no cultural or religious ones.

Yellow fever is a viral infection that’s transmitted by mosquitos. Most have mild symptoms. But severe cases suffer bone crushing pain and bloody vomit and can lead to liver failure, leaving its victims yellow from jaundice (hence the name). 

This disease is endemic to parts of Africa and Central and South America. The World Health Organization and partners have a successful and massive vaccination program to contain this disease and support vaccine mandate.   

To prepare:

1. Plan weeks ahead.

To find out if you need weird vaccines, check first. It has an excellent country-specific website. While most vaccines don’t need a doctor’s prescription, knowing exactly what you need is tricky. 

For yellow fever, you should be vaccinated at least 10 days before departure. 

2. Book a travel clinic.

Yellow fever vaccines are only given in certified clinics. Ohio has 28 such clinics (see CDC website for a list). Most require onsite payment.

Locally, consultation fees range from $94 to $300. The yellow fever vaccine costs $233 to $423. It’s once-a-lifetime shot. Insurance might pay; you’re responsible for sending the invoice for reimbursement.

3. And please! Pretty please! Make sure you and your (grown-up) kids are updated on routine (including childhood) vaccines.

I know I’ve been yammering about yellow fever, but I’m also scared of measles, hepatitis A, polio … all vaccine-preventable diseases. Worldwide, measles kills 4 times more people than yellow fever.

4. Not sure what vaccines you’ve received?

You can request a record (for free) from the Ohio Department of Health, which tracks all vaccines administered in Ohio. Our son’s record includes all his childhood vaccines, rabies, yellow fever, COVID, flu, etc. and their dates of administration. This record comes handy for school, work, and travel.

Now the fun begins.

One month to go, I found that Peru requires a passport expiration date at least 6 months after the return date. I needed a new passport.

Two weeks to go, we finished the typhoid vaccine series.

Three days to go, our flights were canceled because Boeing's 737-9 MAX had a problem keeping its door shut midflight. Rebooked trip.

Two days to go, we started malaria prophylaxis.

Leaving tomorrow. Channeling my inner opossum, we may dislike moving, but we adapt well. Who knows: the boy might need us.

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Volume 16, Issue 2, Posted 10:03 AM, 02.06.2024