Digital Nomad Life-Hack: Travel Vaccines — By Jennifer Shipp
Mexico North America Tips

Digital Nomad Life-Hack: Travel Vaccines — By Jennifer Shipp

We visited Nepal the year before the earthquake when Durbar Square looked like this. Though we can’t prevent something like an earthquake or any subsequent injuries we might suffer from it, we can prevent Japanese Encephalitis by getting a vaccine.

Although I don’t agree with everything the CDC does or espouses in the U.S., the CDC Yellow Book is a must-have for any world-traveler. When I first discovered it, I read it cover-to-cover as a primer in common diseases that occur worldwide. There are maps, charts, and other handy tools in this book to help travelers (and non-travelers for that matter) manage their own vaccination schedules, decide which malaria prophylactics to take, and what meds they need to treat specific stomach or respiratory upsets on their way from here to there. The information contained in the book is also available online. Once you’ve read it and you have a passing familiarity with tropical diseases, you can look things up online if you’re traveling and someone in your pack gets sick. Getting your travel immunizations should be part of a larger digital nomad healthcare strategy.

If you’re planning to travel, you’ll need to learn a few things about your health. This is the “life-hack” part of travel immunizations. I mean, I guess this part is optional, but I’d definitely recommend it and if you’re already a digital nomad or planning to become one, personal health is just another requisite thing to learn about in the world. Medicine, health, and diseases change the way cultures adapt to different spaces. So read the CDC Yellow Book. It’s got a lot of valuable information in it that’s useful on many levels.

You’ll need to get some shots like the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine, Yellow Fever vaccine, and perhaps even a Rabies Vaccine (if you plan to travel in India or work with animals). I’d recommend looking at a trip to Nepal to the CIWEC clinic in Kathmandu. Contact them in advance via email to ask for a price list on their travel vaccines, but you can save a TON of money by going to Nepal for these vaccinations rather than getting them in the U.S. If you go to Nepal for vaccinations though, be sure to look carefully at what side-effects you can expect from each and make sure you can get them all done during your visit (plan to stay long enough for the full course of any vaccines you hope to get). For example, the 3-shot rabies vaccine takes at least 30 days to complete. You may be able to get other travel vaccines at the same time, but be sure to talk to an expert about this. Both John and I were really uncomfortable (and a little sick) after each of our rabies vaccines. Lydi, on the other hand, was fine. Other travel vaccines may cause undesirable side effects too. So prepare for this in advance for this.

We discovered the CIWEC clinic after we’d already gotten a lot of our travel vaccines already in the U.S. We went for a month to Nepal to specifically get the rabies vaccine because it 1) cost $40 per shot (instead of $350 per shot — $1050 total per person—in the U.S.) and 2) because there’s a new rabies vaccine on the market in the U.S. that hasn’t been tested on kids under age 18. The one available in Nepal has been EXTENSIVELY tested on young children over many years. There was no clinic in the U.S. that would give our 14 year old daughter the new rabies vaccine and the old vaccine wasn’t available anymore in the states.

It took us 3 years to acquire all the travel immunizations that are necessary in most of the countries of the world. We never got the cholera vaccine or the tuberculosis vaccine because studies indicate that these may or may NOT work and we’ve never gone to a place where cholera was raging as a big problem. The tuberculosis vaccine has other problems. Deciding whether to get it is something you’ll have to do on the basis of your own judgment and where you intend to travel.

Travel immunizations can be a significant investment and going to a country like Nepal presents an interesting dilemma. If you don’t get Hepatitis A or Typhoid before you leave, the vaccines can take some time to take effect, which makes you vulnerable to those diseases for the first part of your trip. For example, we considered getting the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine at the CIWEC clinic in Nepal, but Japanese Encephalitis is spread via mosquitos and it’s firmly established in Kathmandu. The thing is, most people who get infected with the virus show no symptoms of the disease, but for those unlucky few who do get sick 33% will die and 33% will suffer serious and permanent brain damage. The other 33% will recover. We visited Kathmandu during the monsoon season when the risk of Japanese Encephalitis was highest. So we paid the high cost of getting the vaccine in the states before we left. The risks just didn’t seem to outweigh the costs, in my opinion. Armed with information about CDC travel vaccines in the Yellow Book, most travelers can decide for themselves how to manage these risks.

A lot of people these days are afraid of vaccines because of all the media hype about autism and mercury, etc., but vaccines today don’t contain mercury as a general rule. The only vaccines that still contain mercury are influenza vaccines and yellow fever vaccines that are packaged such that medical personnel have to “double-dip” the needle into the vial. Most influenza vaccines aren’t packaged this way anymore. Travel vaccines can make the difference between a trip that’s emotionally rewarding or one that’s physically disabling (or fatal). I’ve been very glad that we’ve had all our vaccines on many trips abroad. A few travel shots can save you a lot of grief and make it much easier to figure out what’s wrong with you if you do happen to fall ill on your way across the world.

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