Everything You Need to Know About Getting Vaccinations for South East Asia

Let’s just start off with saying:

*We are in no way doctors, or in any way learned in medicine*

We are just two university grads with bachelor degrees (in Biology and Film/Theatre) who believe we are kind of smart and have travelled SouthEast Asia. And, like any other travellers setting off to a new continent, we took the advice of our concerned mothers and went to a travel clinic to see what shots we needed to ward off any crazy tropical diseases. Even after reading this you should do the same! Disease climates change constantly and you want to make sure you have the most up to date information from a professional.

However, when we went to the travel clinic, we were told to get every shot under the sun. These shots cost money, a lot of money, and we were already behind in saving for our trip. So we did some individual research for a “second opinion”. Below is a list of what was recommended to us, and what we ended up getting. These might also be different depending on what shots you’ve already had as a child and where exactly you are going, but hopefully this helps you start off your research. (Spoiler alert, we did not die. We didn’t spend a single day sick in bed either. But we might have just been lucky…)

  • Typhoid/Hep A – This guy was mandatory, but the two are conveniently combined. You will need to take two doses that should be at least 6 months apart from each other. Now don’t panic if your trip is less than 6 months away; one dose will keep you immune, but the second dose provides long term protection especially against Hep A.
  • Rabies – Super expensive and you’re unlikely to get it unless you’re feeding stray dogs or living in a bat infested cave. We opted not to get it and were careful around animals.
  • Japanese Encephalitis – Expensive! This is a mosquito carried virus that makes your brain swell. Not a nice thought, but chance of significant damage is fairly rare. You already need to be persistent with your mosquito protection due to malaria and dengue fever, so we were on the fence about this one. Devon got it, Alex didn’t, neither of our brains swelled.
  • Meningitis – Our doctor told us to get a booster for Meningitis as we were going to be in crowded places with a lot of people. She also said she recommends students going off to live in university residences to do the same. We didn’t get a booster when we left home to go to school, and we didn’t contract the disease, so we decided to skip out on this one. Note that we had already gotten the vaccine as kids, what she was recommending was a booster.
  • Malaria – This is the tricky one. We were told we must have malaria pills during certain times of our trip (Northern Thailand, Laos, inland Vietnam and Cambodia). You need to take one a day while you’re in the malaria risk areas, as well as one a day a few days before and after. These pills are about $5 a pop, and we would’ve spent over $150 in pills if we’d done that. In our research we were led to believe that you could buy them much cheaper in Thailand. This is true, but they’re often off brand pills that can cause serious side effects (hallucinations, indigestion, vivid dreams and diarrhea to name a few). So we went to the Thai Travel Clinic in the Hospital for Tropical Diseases up the road from the Victory Monument in Bangkok. The doctor there told us we didn’t even need malarial pills in the areas we were going; apparently the prevalence of malaria in SEA is fairly exaggerated by Western doctors. They had only had 6 tourist patients diagnosed with malaria in the past 8 years. The only people that actually contract the mosquito borne disease are farmers in very remote regions. She said at most we should have emergency tablets, which is basically 12-16 pills on hand so that if you do get it you can take 4 a day to fight the disease until you get to the hospital. However, this only works if you are always able to get to a hospital within 3 days of showing symptoms. So we got 20 from her with her prescription (still $5 CAD/pill) at the hospital and went on our way. We were persistent bug spray users and covered up at dusk until the mosquitoes went away. We did not get malaria, and neither did any of our friends.

This is the information we gathered for our vaccinations and safety while travelling. However you need to take into account your personal preferences. The main thing to remember is see a professional for advice and do your research in order to save money and decide what you really need to feel safe and healthy on your adventure!

A Few Resources to Start You Off…

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