Traveling This Summer? The Vaccinations May Hurt
Vacationers who used to look no farther than France for a foreign travel fix are now heading much farther afield. The fastest growing tourist destinations so far in 2007 are Asia, Africa, and the Middle East, according to the World Tourism Organization. But be prepared: Getting vaccinated against the exotic diseases you may encounter can cost more than your plane fare.
Chances are you'll get no help from your health insurer. More than three quarters of health plans don't cover the cost of travel vaccinations, according to a 2005 survey by America's Health Insurance Plans, a trade group. "It's a balancing act," says Wendy Morphew, a spokesperson for Aetna. "Companies weigh what they can cover without adding so much to the expense [of a policy] that it's unaffordable for people."
Vaccine requirements and recommendations vary widely by country. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's website lists what travelers generally need around the world, and travel medicine clinics can also advise you (a list is available at www.istm.org). Only two vaccines are ever required: the one for yellow fever if you're headed to sub-Saharan Africa or tropical South America, and the meningococcal vaccination for people going to Saudi Arabia for travel during the annual pilgrimage to Hajj.
But many other vaccines are recommended, depending on where you're going. Travelers to Southeast Asia, Mexico, and the Middle East, for example, may need hepatitis A and B, typhoid, and possibly rabies vaccines, if they plan to visit rural areas. They may also need booster doses of tetanus-diptheria or polio.
Taking the time to do some advance legwork may pay off in lower costs. While your primary care doctor and walk-in retail clinics in stores may stock a few of these shots—the tetanus vaccine as well as hepatitis A and B, perhaps—they won't store shots that are more rarely required. If you're traveling anywhere except western Europe, you'll probably need to visit a travel medicine clinic. Call around to check prices, as they vary widely. It's a good idea to see the doctor at least six weeks before you plan to depart, if possible, because some vaccines don't become effective immediately.
Some health plans that cover preventive care will pay for travel vaccines. But check with your doctor or the travel clinic first to find out about special conditions. One traveler to Nicaragua, for example, discovered that her plan covered travel vaccines only if her primary care doctor administered them. But he stocked only a few shots and wasn't willing to order the rest. The travel clinic she went to didn't accept insurance. So even though she was technically covered for travel vaccines, she ended up paying cash.
The moral of the story: Planning ahead can take some of the sting out of travel vaccines, but you probably can't inoculate yourself completely.