Jibbing From Jabs: Getting Travel-Vaccinated When It’s the Last Thing You Want to Do

When the Outpost editor-in-chief emailed Lena and me reminding us to ensure our travel inoculations were up to date, I imagined her no-nonsense words punctuated with a stern, over-the-glasses stare. She once worked in public health and emphasizes safety at every opportunity, although I’m beginning to suspect these sentiments are directed more toward me than Lena. Was it my article on hitchhiking through Mexico that depleted her confidence, or the one about vomiting during an ayahuasca ceremony in the middle of the woods?

To demonstrate that I’ve outgrown my reckless, double-vodka, no-sunscreen habits of youth, I tackled the issue in the most adult manner I could think of: I called my mom.

She scanned and forwarded me my vaccine records, which bore more blotches than a Rorschach test and more creases than my nonagenarian grandmother. I spent a few moments squinting at the algebraic numbers and acronyms, then decided to place my faith in the Ontario health-care system and assume I was covered for major travel infirmities such as rubella and homesickness.

Truth be told, I’m somewhat apprehensive of travel clinics after a rough experience a few years ago. After issuing a series of costly tests he never fully explained, the doctor at one East Toronto clinic grew outraged when I refused the Gardasil vaccine.

“Shocked and angry, I was about to retort—then realized he still hadn’t administered the tetanus shot I’d requested, and that it probably wasn’t prudent to offend the individual who’s about to jab you.”

“It’s almost $500, and I’m a waitress so I don’t have extended health coverage,” I explained.

“Then maybe you should go back to school and train for a better job!” the doctor snapped.

Shocked and angry, I was about to retort—then realized he still hadn’t administered the tetanus shot I’d requested, and that it probably wasn’t prudent to offend the individual who’s about to jab you.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not some closet anti-vaxxer who believes you can prevent meningitis with milk-thistle tablets and reverse-osmosis water. However, I do believe in making an educated and pragmatic decision—and this guy seemed suspiciously pushy.

When I was preparing for my RTW trip, my GP recommended a tetanus booster, malaria pills (for the African jungle), altitude pills (for Himalayan trekking) and a round of Cipralex in case of a stomach or bladder infection. Regarding what to do if my malaria pills made me sick and I had to stop taking them (which did happen), he suggested wearing bug spray and seeking medical attention if I were to exhibit any telling symptoms. Concerning the rabies shot, he indicated that a more effective preventative measure was to give the street dogs a wide berth—that said, Lena had to get a rabies shot last time she was in Thailand, so perhaps she has a different opinion.

At the risk of jinxing it (should I possess such mystic power over natural law), I’m assuming I’ll get sick on this trip, because I usually do. But as long as we’re stocked with Pepto Bismol, Immodium and rolls of toilet paper, I’m sure it’ll be manageable.

(I can only imagine the over-the-glasses look from my editor when she reads this one.)