Travel Shots

October 1, 2012

By Gabrielle.

With six kids, I don’t think we’ve ever had a year when we didn’t have a visit to the doctor that included a shot. Usually several. Last month, I went in to get travel shots for my Ethiopia trip. I needed vaccinations for Hepatitis A, Typhoid, Yellow Fever, Diphtheria, Tetanus, Polio and Whooping Cough. When we moved to France, part of getting permission to live here included getting a few of these, so I only needed 4 to be caught up for the Ethiopia trip.

Like most everyone on the planet, I generally avoid getting shots. And I absolutely can’t watch as the needle goes in, or I’ll get queasy. But as I was sitting in the doctor’s office, I had a flashback of early morning, sitting in my pjs on a bar stool at our kitchen counter, watching my father take his insulin needles out of the fridge for his daily shot. And with that flashback came the always shocking reminder that shots are a daily part of so many people’s lives. It’s so strange, isn’t it, the things we get used to?

In case you’re curious, the shots didn’t hurt at all — not even a pinch. My arms were only sore for a couple of days afterward, and as an extra bonus, the kids were impressed with all my band aids. Easy peasy. I think it’s good for me to be reminded about what the process feels like so I can be more compassionate toward my kids when it’s their turn.

When’s the last time you had a shot? Have you ever visited a country that required vaccinations? Want the funny band aids? They’re from Urban Outfitters. (Here are some other ones that made me laugh.)

P.S. — I also have boxes of malaria pills to take while I’m there (they are expensive!). I’ve heard mixed stories about them. Have you ever taken them? I’d love to hear.

I’m traveling to Ethiopia with and OneMoms. By joining ONE, you add your voice to millions who want to make a difference in the fight against malnourishment and hunger. ONE will never ask for donations and will keep your contact details confidential. I hope you’ll join.

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{ 43 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Robin October 1, 2012 at 2:47 pm

While living overseas in the UK for 10 years I never had to get extra shots – on another note it was during mad cow outbreak and am thusly banned from ever donating blood or organs in the US.

Got a flu shot this weekend. Just a pinch & hurt for about a day.


2 Anne October 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I currently live in Guinea (a little known country on the west coast of Africa) and had to get a million shots, more than normal thanks to my missing immunization records (psa alert, parents, please keep copies of your children’s medical records. You never know when they might need them, and most doctors offices destroy them after a certain period of time), so I feel for you!

We have to take anti-malarials and have been on mefloquine for over a year now (even my three month old takes it). I have no side effects but my husband doesn’t sleep well the night he takes it. You’ve probably heard some horror stories, but I am sure the extreme side effects happen less common than you think. Good luck and enjoy your trip!


3 Vera October 1, 2012 at 2:58 pm

I took a shot for the cervical cancer vaccine last year and it boy it did hurt. Loved the pink bandaids they gave us though.

More recently, I’ve been injected pain relievers for my back pain and I watched as the needle went in to attach the thingie that they keep on you in case there are other shots needed. Didn’t hurt as much as the vaccine though.


4 Jessica October 1, 2012 at 3:00 pm

OMG. Are these bandaids real?


5 Design Mom October 1, 2012 at 3:04 pm

Totally! I’ve seen them in store at Urban Outfitters but I couldn’t find a link online. If anyone has an online source, please do share.


6 Barchbo October 1, 2012 at 3:06 pm

I need those bandages! I’m going to order several for stocking stuffers!

I just completed my second round of gestational diabetes – people like your dad have my admiration. I didn’t have to do injections, but the 4x daily needle pricks were enough to elevate my gratitude quotient.


7 Amy October 1, 2012 at 3:30 pm

The most ‘exotic’ shot I’ve ever gotten was one Progesterone in Oil shot while I was on bedrest with my twins. My husband (a physician) decided that it could be administered in my bicep. It was awful, and over 4 1/2 years later, thinking about it still hurts. That was the last time he gave me a shot, but he also administered my flu vaccine that year, and I had twice daily heparin injections once I was admitted to the hospital (for two months) Good times. I really don’t miss being a pin cushion.


8 J.Allen October 1, 2012 at 4:08 pm

Are you taking Larium? I’ve taken it many times for trips to Kenya. I never had any of the side effects possible. Enjoy your trip!


9 Cecilia October 1, 2012 at 4:11 pm

Our family took Atovaquone/Proguanil (Malarone) on our three-week trip to India. None of us (including the kids) had any side-effects. I liked that you start taking the pills only one week before you go and can stop taking them fairly soon after you return (two weeks, I think). The other anti-malarial I was offered, mefloquine, can have some serious side-effects, as Anne suggests above. As I understand, it’s not recommended for people with any history of seizures, anxiety, heart issues, or depression…I didn’t know if my post-partum depression counted, but I didn’t want to take any chances!


10 Fiona October 1, 2012 at 4:16 pm

I remember one holiday in Zimbabwe, I am from south Africa, where we were taking the weekly dose of malaria tablets – on Mondays. The way our trip was planned was we were always on the move on Mondays – and all my mother and I wanted to do was stay in bed with nausea and migraine. It only lasted the day – but it was a long awful day in the car. My sister and my dad didnt suffer at all.


11 Denae October 1, 2012 at 4:27 pm

I hate taking malaria pills! A lot of time medicine can actually be cheaper to buy once you are in-country. In Colombia my husband and I got yellow fever shots for $30 (they cost over $100 in the States) before actually going into the yellow fever zone.


12 Amy October 1, 2012 at 4:28 pm

When I did global public health work, I had a ton of vaccinations – every one you mentioned, in fact. I still keep my “yellow card” with my passport because I could not get into certain countries (e.g., the northern part of Brazil) without documentation of being vaccinated. The hep A shots made me tired and of course, tetanus can really hurt. But the vaccines are much better than getting sick! Regarding malaria meds – I never took them. Because I was working in dengue fever, I was very careful about avoiding mosquito bites by applying DEET-containing bug repellant, dosing my clothes and bed nets with repellant, and wearing long sleeves and pants. However, you should do some research about where you are going. For example, how prevalent is malaria in that area, are there bed nets available, and so on. Then you can evaluate your specific risk and decide about taking malaria pills.

I worked in South and Central America (Colombia, Brazil, Panama, Mexico) and Asia (Cambodia, Thailand, Singapore). Let me know if you have questions!


13 Tamsin October 1, 2012 at 4:39 pm

My roommate did a semester in Ghana, and had to get a whole bunch of shots before she left, including yellow fever. That one made her so sick that she spent the entire night in my (twin-sized!) bed with me, shivering and shaking. It was a pretty miserable night, but she recovered and went off to Ghana to have the adventure of a lifetime. And she did it all with four months worth of insulin in tow, because, like your dad, diabetes and insulin shots were part of her life. :)


14 Kat October 1, 2012 at 5:03 pm

Woo boy, I had some crazy dreams the last time I took anti-malaria pills (they also gave me killer heartburn if I washed them down with juice or lay down within a few hours of taking them).

Have an awesome time in Ethiopia and have some Injera for me!


15 Linda K. October 1, 2012 at 5:11 pm

I tried to join onemom…they won’t accept my postal code – says it is an invalid zip code…


16 Design Mom October 3, 2012 at 2:05 am

Hmmm. So mysterious. Not sure what’s up.


17 Grace @ sense and simplicity October 1, 2012 at 5:18 pm

I took malaria pills when I was in Bangladesh and India last summer and didn’t have any side-effects. I would certainly rather have a few side-effects than the actual disease.

I cared for my sister who has cancer this summer and had to give her shots in her stomach every day for a week after each chemo treatments. It was very stressful at first, but got better with each shot i gave and now I could even give myself the injections if I had to (here’s hoping I never do).

Have a wonderful trip. Going to a third world country (like Bangladesh for me) is such an eye-opening experience.


18 Lissa October 1, 2012 at 5:34 pm

Malarone….I always take them when I go to Tanaznia. Really intense dreams. Not nightmares, but intense.


19 Ann October 1, 2012 at 6:47 pm

My husband has taken the malaria pills at. Arizona times. He had odd dreams


20 Tracey October 1, 2012 at 6:50 pm

Wow! What an exciting trip. I’m already excited to read about it.

I honestly don’t even remember the last time I had a shot, but I’m not so squeamish about them now that I’ve been giving my daughter a shot every night for 7 years :) It’s amazing what you can get used to.


21 JennyLynn October 1, 2012 at 7:07 pm

Everyone seems so well traveled. The last trip I took was up to Rexbury Idaho to BYU-I… And I am grateful I did not need a shot to go there.

Last shot I had was for swine flu and pneumonia 3 years ago. It was aweful and almost landed me in the hospital. Dr. was nice enough to allow me to come in everyday for a shot of antibiotic. Which allowed me to feel like I was dying in the comfort of my own home.

Someday I will be required all the shots needed to travel all over Europe.


22 Amanda Z. October 1, 2012 at 7:32 pm

I just got my flu shot yesterday, so I have a bit of a sore arm. I also heading into year 8 (!!!!) of allergy shots. For a few years it was weekly, then every two weeks, now every three weeks. They have been life changing for me! A few years ago my husband also had a very odd diabetic bout, and had to do insulin shots 4x a day – luckily now he has a clean bill of health.


23 Helena October 1, 2012 at 7:45 pm

I’ve been to India a few times for work and had to take malaria pills. I hated them (they made me dizzy) but it seemed pointlessly silly not to deal with it and take them. Yuck, though.


24 Cammie October 1, 2012 at 8:48 pm

I took Malaria pills when I went to Kenya. They were worth ever penny for the peace of mind that they gave me, and no side-effects. On the other hand, I have a cousin who also took his pills when he was in Liberia last month. He still got malaria and was in a hospital for 2 weeks, he almost didn’t make it.
It’s a gamble either way.


25 Kelly October 1, 2012 at 9:01 pm

Brave to undergo so many shots! I know I’m overdue for some boosters, for sure.

As for the malaria pills, I read the novel “State of Grace” over the summer, and the main character has some major nightmares due to her anti-malarial pills when she’s in the Amazon. But we’ll just agree that the author only added that to move the plot forward! ;-)


26 madelief October 1, 2012 at 9:21 pm

Hmmm… took Paludrine. Trippy, very trippy dreams.


27 sara October 1, 2012 at 10:27 pm

I spent 10 days in Ethiopia in Addis Ababa the capital. Because Addis is over 8000 feet, the threat of mosquitos is quite low and it was not necessary for us to take the malarial meds. And good thing too, as the side effects are nasty (from what I have heard). IF you are traveling outside Addis then you may want to take the pills. But remember: with jet lag and crazy side effects your dreams will be jacked! Good luck :)


28 Heidi October 1, 2012 at 10:35 pm

I met a girl in London who had just returned from Africa, and had gotten Malaria. She gave the impression that it was a bit of a trophy, but I can’t imagine how awful it would be to have it. (my biology professor at university had it and described how awful it was – plus we learnt the life cycle) It’s an awful disease, make sure you take your pills.


29 Kelly October 1, 2012 at 11:27 pm

I traveled to India and took Doxycycline with the only side-effect being a bit of an upset stomach.


30 Elbe1 October 1, 2012 at 11:32 pm

We did not take any Malaria pills during our stay in the Ethiopian highlands, as the temperatures were rather moderate and the air was quite dry during our stay. However, in the Omo Valley, Malaria Pils were recommended. We took Malarone. I am from Hamburg, Germany and we have doctors specialized in travel medicine, as well as public prevention departments which even have all vaccines available. They know best what to take in which region. Really convenient!


31 findingmagnolia October 1, 2012 at 11:46 pm

I’ve taken two different medications for malaria. I took Larium on three different trips and had the intense dreams others mentioned the night that I took the pill (it’s a once weekly dose), but otherwise was fine. When we traveled to Ethiopia to adopt Zinashi, my doctor put me on doxycycline to try to save me money, and not only did I have to take it twice daily, it also gave me the worst flight of my life due to severe stomach cramps. I stopped taking the medication and had a wonderful month in Addis with my new little family. This second trip, to adopt our sweet Elvie, I didn’t even bother with malaria meds. Depending on where you travel in Ethiopia, you may not need them, but I’d be mindful of whether you’ll be in areas with large bodies of water and high incidence of malaria. It is the dry season now, so your risk will be lower overall.


32 ina October 2, 2012 at 1:34 am
33 Anne October 2, 2012 at 3:01 am

Oh, also, it’s important to know that taking anti-malarials won’t necessarily prevent you from getting malaria, but will make the disease less severe and easier to treat if you do get it. Because of that it’s still important to wear repellant and sleep under a bed net when you’re in affected areas.


34 Elizabeth October 2, 2012 at 4:29 am

My husband and I took Mefloquine on a trip through southern and east Africa, and we both experienced side effects. I had terrible anxiety and nightmares, and he felt dizzy and nauseous every morning. I’d read that side effects are often underreported because people are away from their doctors when the problems are occurring. On the other hand, malaria sounds much worse than the potential side effects from anti-malarials, so I wouldn’t want to go without!


35 KB October 2, 2012 at 6:57 am

The number one way to prevent malaria is to not be bitten by an infected mosquito. For short visits to affected areas the protection is worth the side effects of the meds. Still, wearing long trousers, long sleeved shirts, liberally applying DEET insect repellant, and always sleeping under a net are really the best prevention. We lived and worked in West Africa for years and never took the medicines but, we were very serious about mosquitos!


36 Sarah October 2, 2012 at 7:39 am

There’s a book called “State of Wonder” by Ann Patchett. It’s sort of a strange story, but the main character spends about half the time tripped out on Larium.

Have a wonderful trip :)


37 Sarah October 2, 2012 at 7:40 am

Oh, wait, I literally meant “trip.” Like, to Ethiopia. (Proofread, Sarah!)



38 Christina @ Homemade Ocean October 2, 2012 at 9:30 am

I LOOOOVE those bandaids!


39 Bets October 2, 2012 at 9:42 am

I was a little loopy taking Larium, kind of felt like being sea sick.


40 Amanda October 2, 2012 at 11:21 am

I just moved to China last month. I’m living here for a year (maybe longer) and had to get a few shots. The one for Typhoid made my arm sore for a few days!


41 Design Mom October 3, 2012 at 2:06 am

Wow! Thank you for all the great feedback and advice.

I can’t believe how many of you reported strange dreams on the malaria pills. I’m so curious now!


42 Faith October 6, 2012 at 12:56 pm

I’m in Thailand right now (we also visited Cambodia) and I had to get Hepatitis A and Typhoid before traveling, although the Typhoid was a live virus taken orally, so no pain involved. I had previously had a TDaP booster and Hepatitis B vaccine, so I was covered for those, but they were recommended. I’m also taking Malarone as malaria prophylaxis. It took a little bit of pre-planning, but it feels good to be prepared for a worst case scenario. I also brought a pre-filled Rx for antibiotics in the event I needed it, but luckily no funny tummies yet! One tip I have is to take a few snacks or comfort foods with you. After several days of eating delicious local food, it’s sometimes nice to also have something familiar. Have a wonderful trip!


43 Faith October 6, 2012 at 1:00 pm

P.S. Some malaria pills have nasty side effects. The Malarone (Atovaquone-Proguanil) is expensive, but I’ve had no side effects yet and I’m half way through the box. Insect spray with 30 % deet didn’t keep all the Mosquitos away for us and therefore, the pills were necessary.


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