Until recently I had never visited a travel clinic. But after going once, I’m a convert, and from now on will always go before I take far-flung trips.
After going to Thailand and meeting a handful of people with friends who had contracted malaria on their trips, I vowed to start making a visit to the travel clinic part of my pre-trip prep work before going to at-risk countries. So, when my next trip to Colombia came up, I decided to follow through on this promise. When I researched online and checked out the CDC website, I found mixed opinions on whether to get certain vaccines for certain locations. I knew what to do next: get a professional opinion on what exactly I needed for the areas I was headed.
I contacted my primary care doctor, who referred me back to the CDC website, and after explaining that I’d already done the initial research, they decided to schedule me for a yellow fever vaccine. However, the yellow fever vaccine at the time was on national backorder (which it usually is), and my primary care doctor would not have it in enough time to administer it before my trip. The wild-goose chase to find a yellow fever vaccine led me to the Harvard Vanguard Travel Medicine Department.
I made an appointment a little over a week before my trip. (Which is a big mistake, keep reading to see why). When I arrived, I met with a nurse who asked which areas I was traveling to and went over my immunization chart they had from my primary care office. Shortly after, the doctor came in and handed me a thick folder with information I didn’t even know I needed. She went over the Travax Traveler Health Report for Colombia, which included health concerns, requirements for entry (i.e. necessary visas, immunization requirements—some countries require proof of a yellow fever vaccine for reentry within a certain time period of entering their country if you’ve been to areas with yellow fever cases), recommended immunizations, travel advisories, general information (i.e. entry and exit fees, currency, unusual laws, driving laws, civil unrest warnings), embassy contact information, basic preventative measures, and finally a pre-travel checklist.
Access to Shoreland Travax reports are restricted to licensed professionals only, so you can only receive this information at a clinical visit.
We also went over a detailed map of the country with at-risk areas for yellow fever and malaria and determined I should take malaria pills and get the yellow fever vaccine since I was going to a national park. She also recommended I get the typhoid vaccine since mine was outdated and gave me a prescription for traveler’s diarrhea medicine since most areas in the country are at high risk.
She also helped me register in STEP (Smart Traveler Enrollment Program) and verified my travel insurance coverage through work with GeoBlue. I also got a handy over-the-counter travel medicine/product list to keep for future travels.
Overall, I had a surprisingly pleasant experience and will make sure to visit the clinic before any travels to destinations where I am unsure of what health and safety precautions I should take.