Travel vaccine lessons from my Madagascar trip

Photo by Hyttalo Souza on Unsplash

Over the past 15 years my travels have required a lot of vaccines. I’ve pretty much covered all the bases. So I got lazy and  barely look at vaccine recommendations anymore. It turns out that’s not necessarily a good policy. I’m planning a trip  to Madagascar this year. And I discovered that Madagascar requires proof of a Yellow Fever vaccine within the past 10 years if you’re arriving from a country where Yellow Fever is endemic. I had this vaccine, but it was more than 10 years ago. And I’m spending two nights in Ethiopia on my way to Madagascar. So I need a new vaccine.

As a side note, Madagascar is a bit behind on current health care research regarding Yellow Fever vaccine. It is now commonly accepted that this vaccine provides lifelong protection. The 10 year booster is no longer recommended. But, I need a visa so I don’t have a choice.

But wait, there’s more to this story. It turns out there’s a global shortage of Yellow Fever vaccine. And the United States is entirely out of stock. It’s not so easy to get it. There are only a few clinics in the United States authorized to administer an alternative Yellow Fever vaccine, Stamaril, that recently was given fast-track FDA approved for this emergency use. (It’s a vaccine that is used in France and many other countries). You can find an approved Yellow Fever vaccine clinic on this CDC map.

The Stamaril Yellow Fever vaccine is not cheap. At Costco they charge members $150, and that requires you to have a doctor send them a prescription. I heard other clinics are more expensive than this. So if you’re not lucky enough to have a clinic covered by your health plan, you may be paying a lot of money for this vaccine. I have one friend who spent more than $700 on vaccines for her family before a trip this summer due to this Yellow Fever vaccine issue. (Perhaps the lesson here is that kids are expensive).

Also, availability at these clinics is limited. You can’t just plan on getting a last minute vaccine and assume it will work out. As soon as you book a trip I recommend checking on vaccines required. Don’t put this off!

Here’s the three things you need to do once you have a trip planned:

  1. Check to see if vaccines are recommended for your trip. The CDC maintains a very good website with everything you need to know for each country you are visiting.
  2. Check entry requirements for countries you are visiting to see if they require any vaccine documentation. Definitive information can generally be found on the foreign consulate or embassy website for each country.
  3. Make an appointment with a travel clinic to get the vaccines you need.

In general:

Don’t lose that yellow paper that documents your vaccines. And consider traveling with it in case proof of vaccine is required to enter a country.

Keep track of when your vaccines are due. Don’t assume that if you got a vaccine once you’re set for life. Some vaccines require boosters every 10 years.