What vaccinations do I need to travel to Southeast Asia?
Clearly I am not a doctor. Medical stuff like vaccinations creeps me out. People are way too emotional about making sure they continue living, and the fear-mongering from every pseudo authority can get overwhelming. What’s true and what is overextended paranoia isn’t so easy to decide when it comes to most medical realities, at least for me. And that goes for whatever I say here. Do take it with more than a grain of salt and make your own decisions based on what makes you feel comfortable.
The CDC, or Center for Disease Control, here in America, suggests being up to date on your routine vaccinations, such as flu and tetanus booster shots for travel to Southeast Asia. Which is hilarious, because I haven’t been to a doctor since I was a child. So how up to date are my “routine” vaccinations? Flu vaccinations are supposed to be done each year and a tetanus booster every 10 years, so I’m way overdue for both.
Suggested Vaccinations for Southeast Asia include Measles, Typhoid and Hepatitis A. Hepatitis B, Malaria and Rabies vaccinations are also suggested, as well as Japanese Encephalitis for extended trips.
Highly recommended are Typhoid and Hepatitis A, both of which you might contract through contaminated food or water. There is a risk of Hepatitis B through sexual contact or contaminated needles. While I don’t plan on shooting up in Southeast Asia, a tattoo is a real possibility. Sexual contact less so. But Hepatitis A&B can be done in the same shot, the problem is that it’s a three-stage vaccination, receiving the second shot 30 days after the first, and the third five months after the second.
The Global Clinic Directory curated by the International Society of Travel Medicine is probably the best place for you to find out where to get vaccinations near you. And it is suggested that you get vaccinations at least a month before your trip. Especially if you are getting the Hepatitis A&B shots.
Making sure that your Flu and Tetanus vaccinations are up to date, and a Typhoid and Hepatitis vaccination should be the bare minimum for most travelers.
Passport Health in Rhode Island wanted $250 for the Hepatitis and $150 for each Typhoid and Tetanus which ends up being $550 before taxes for the bare minimum of shots. That’s an out of pocket expense because I do not have health care insurance.
That’s more than my monthly budget in Southeast Asia.
While the CDC does not recommend getting travel vaccines in another country, Bangkok has vaccinations upon arrival, and I have heard that they’re cheap at local health centers in the country. For instance, a rabies shot here in the US is $200, while in Bangkok it can be as little as $11 at the Thai Travel Clinic within the Hospital for Tropical Diseases in Bangkok.
So I booked an appointment online for the day after arrival in Thailand to get vaccinated there instead of paying that much money out of pocket in the United States.
If you decide to do this, and I’m not suggesting that you do, bring a photocopy of your passport, and either print out and bring the Travel Clinic Health Questionnaire with you or fill it out online and email them a copy when you make an appointment. There is a Doctor fee (200 Baht), a Hospital fee (100 Baht), and a Registration fee (20baht), on top of the prices for the vaccinations. That’s less than $11 USD for the visit and maybe $50 – $90 USD for the vaccinations depending on what you get. Much cheaper than the $550 USD I would have paid in the States.
But again, getting vaccinations in a foreign country is not something the CDC recommends. That is a decision that you’ll have to make for yourself.
The Thai Travel Clinic was easy enough to find and is a short walk from the Victory Monument stop on the Bangkok BTS Skytrain. I received four shots that covered Hepatitis A&B, Typhoid, and Tetanus, which also included Diphtheria, Polio, and Pertussis. The doctor urged me to get the Japanese Encephalitis vaccination as well, and all together, with hospital-related fees included, came to 3,242 Baht, or $107.37 USD.
You’ll notice that I didn’t discuss medicine to prevent malaria. Most travelers seem to skip the medication and seem to do fine. But again, my choice, not a suggestion. Also, while I am not a fan of insect repellant having only barely used it over the last decade of long-distance hiking, it is important for disease prevention, and since I am wandering Southeast Asia without travelers’ insurance, it will be a regular part of my packing list. Along with hand sanitizer.
And since I skipped the rabies vaccination, I will have to keep my rabid dog and monkey fighting to a minimum on this trip. Which is a shame.
Summary: Make sure your Flu, Measles and Tetanus vaccinations are up to date. Personally, I added Typhoid, Hepatitis A&B, and Japanese Encephalitis. But if you are worried about the cost of vaccination in the United States it is entirely possible to get it done on arrival in Thailand.