There are many schools of thought on this topic, from "no vaccines ever" to taking any and every one of them offered "just in case"! I like to think there is an informed middle ground.
To be fair, I need to disclose that we are pretty far over to the no vaccines side of the debate. My oldest had most of his vaccines but not many of the boosters, my middle son was vaccinated in the beginning of his life but on a slower schedule so as not to receive so much poison all in one sitting. He also has not had any boosters, and the youngest has not received any of the standard vaccines at all.
But when it comes to traveling to locations our bodies are not used to, even I started to research and wondered if some of the vaccines were important to get.
I remember when I was younger, before children, thinking that any place I needed to get serious vaccines was a place I didn't not want to go...it must be awfully scary to need all those shots! And I think that many people feel the same way and thus miss out on traveling to many exotic and amazing locations.
With the advent of vaccines and taking simple precautions, most travelers never come into contact with any of these diseases. Things like Japanese Encephalitis or Hep B are very rare still even in remote areas of the world. They're certainly not a high enough risk to stifle your travel dreams.
When it comes to vaccines, I think the important thing is to not look at them as all or nothing, particularly with travel vaccines. Research each travel vaccination on an individual basis and determine if it is necessary for you and your family based on where you plan to travel.
Sometimes it will be that where you are traveling to is endemic in a certain disease or simply that where you are traveling is less likely to have appropriate healthcare to deal with the disease if you do contract it.
Rabies is a perfect example. Knowing that animals in Asia are not typically vaccinated and knowing that my children love to pet just about any animal within their sights, I thought this was one that would be most advantageous for us. Especially since I learned that it carries a 100% fatality rate once the disease process starts.
But when I researched it I realized that the shots, post bite, were not that much more then the vaccine itself. The vaccine is 3 shots, treatment is 5, and they are not given into the wound or the abdomen. So we opted against it. Had we been traveling to very remote areas where the treatment would not be readily available the decision would have been different.
My advice is to go to the CDC site to see what the recommendations are for each country. They will also tell you if there is a breakout of any particular disease in their travel updates section. These are all very important guidelines but they are just that...a guideline. The best thing for you and your family is to then, from their list, independently research each vaccine on an individual basis based on the risk reward.
Sometimes there will be a mandatory vaccine to be able to enter or re enter a country after having been in an endemic area, such as Yellow Fever which we had to take before our trip to Southeast Asia. They are serious about it and it will, in fact, be mandatory unless you have an allergy exceptions. You can find out what countries are effected by mandatory vaccines on the CDC site as well.
Another big concern with travel to Africa, Central America or Asia is Malaria. We all know what it is and how easy it is to contract. A simple mosquito bite will do the job. In most areas staying indoors during peak biting hours, and wearing repellents is enough to stave off most mosquito borne illnesses, but in many parts of the world it is so endemic that simply following those basic rules will not feel like enough. While planning your travels make sure you do the research beforehand to make sure you and your family are not heading to an area truly riddled with Malaria. There are many sites online that provide this information such as www.malariahotspots.co.uk.
There are many different pills you can take, and usually you need to start the treatment 2 weeks before heading to your destination. So do not wait until it is too late to be properly protected. They can be expensive but if you truly need them, it will be worth it. Ask others which of the medicines carry the lowest side effects, as some can be quite difficult to manage.
Once you decide which shots -- if any -- you would like to receive, there are a variety of ways to obtain them. Oftentimes it is less expensive to get them when you arrive in your destination. Places like Bangkok offer wonderful travel clinics and can give vaccines and tablets for a fraction of the cost in the US. You can also get them from your doctor or through a local travel clinic, but this way will definitely be the most costly. A final option, also one that can save you money and time, is to purchase vaccines and malaria tablets online.
In the end, we all need to do what we are comfortable with for our families in regards to vaccines. Just be sure to do your research and only take what you need. If you base your decisions from true unbiased information rather then fear, you can't go wrong!
Image Credit: Wikimedia Commons.
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