Being the daughter of a nurse there were many years in my life when I never questioned vaccinations, be it travel ot childhood immunisations. Certainly when I was a child we were always marched off to the doctors by my Mum when ours were due and had all the routine teenage ones at school. To my good fortune I never had any ill effects from any of them, several of my friends however were left with huge scars on their arms following the T.B. ones we were all given at secondary school.
My now 21 yr old daughter was given all her immunisations as a child and as heart wrenching as it is for any new parent to see their baby being given shots, I always just assumed this WAS the best option. Within minutes of Georgia being born she was given a vitamin k injection in her thigh, I don’t remember even internally questioning this at the time – if the midwife said it was the right thing to do, then it was – right? Rather naively I never considered the alternative.
My moment of questioning came when Georgia was 5 and we booked a holiday to Dominican Republic. I went to my Doctors surgery who recommended the appropriate travel vaccines at the time, I cannot remember what they were now for memory, but I do remember her sitting there as good as gold in the treatment room whilst the nurse put 2 needles in her arm. She didn’t even flinch, but a couple of minutes later when she got up to walk out of the room she passed out cold on the floor. The nurse sent out an emergency call and doctors seem to appear from all directions. I just remember staring helplessly as everything unfolded in front of my eyes in slow motion, I actually thought in that moment that the vaccines had killed her and the fear that ran through my body in that moment I wouldn’t wish upon any parent. Thankfully I am pleased to report that she had ‘only’ fainted and was right as reign again within a few minutes. I cannot tell you how guilty I felt though.
In that moment I made the decision that between then and her 18th birthday, I would only choose travel destinations where she didn’t need inoculations. After 18 she was free to choose for herself. I stood true to my word and although we continued to travel extensively in the years that followed it was always to ‘safe’ destinations. Georgia however later decided to become Cabin Crew and had to have just about every travel vaccine available. She was old enough by this stage to obviously make that decision for herself though.
Cameron of course is 14 years younger than Georgia, and a lot has changed in that time. We have google and social media now and a lot more information & awareness is available. I did finally decide on him having the combined MMR & Meningitis immunisations as a baby, but only after a lot of research and soul searching. He was also given his initial vitamin k as drops on his tongue rather than injection but only because I specifically requested this within my birth plan.
However it was when he reached the age of 6 that I made the decision to have our year out travelling the world. MY decision, not his. Being a single mother with a then 6 yr old child (now 7) safety in all aspects was a huge priority in the planning stage. I was not going to take him anywhere where I felt there was a high risk of danger. Disease and vaccine requirements played a huge part in the logistical planning. 2018 was fine; Dubai, Ireland, USA, Canada and Caribbean Cruise Ship ports.
2019 plans were for Kuala Lumpar, Singapore, Australia, New Zealand, South Pacific Islands (10 cruise ship ports), Hawaii & San Francisco. Then I decided to add on an extra month to Bali and Hong Kong.
I had read many comments on world schooling and family travel forums of lots of families travelling the world and staying in all of these countries and many others with non-vaccinated children. That is what I was going to do as well. I was not going to put Cameron through rounds of injections because I chose for us to travel.
As the weeks and months progressed though things started to niggle in the back of my mind, I was taken back to 20 yrs ago when a dear friend of a friend died suddenly from Malaria shortly after returning from a safari trip to Kenya, she was only 31 and ‘thought’ she had cold!
We all like to think we are indestructible but we are not. I would never ever forgive myself if anything happened to Cam, and what would happen to him if I got seriously ill when travelling? We both had scares when travelling through Canada and the USA in October – Cam ended up in hospital in Alberta after waking up unable to walk and with excruciating pain in his hip one morning, and I had a serious of severe nosebleeds out there (something which I have now connected back to a side effect of the motion sickness patches I was wearing!) but on one occasion in Albany it was so bad I started panicking that I was going to pass out and/or bleed to death….thankfully I did neither, but it was a very scary time especially at 2am in an unattended apartment with only a sleeping 6yr old in my presence who would have no one to call on if anything more serious had happened.
So realising that neither of us were indestructible I decided to make an appointment at our travel clinic on our return home to the U.K. to discuss the options. I had to explain to Cameron why we were going and ended up dragging him through the door kicking and screaming, then physically having to carry him upstairs to the consulting room still doing the same. I felt like the worst mother in the the whole world, and just like Cameron I wanted to run out of the room crying too!
Being a ‘middle aged’ woman (God I hate having to say that now!!!). I do have a bit of money behind me to do this trip and had already decided that in the riskier areas I would book better hotels with the hope of better health and safety, therefore in Kuala Lumpar, Singapore & Bali we are staying in 4/5 star accommodation. Neither are we planning to trek into dense jungle etc.
After discussion, our travel nurse advised that whilst there is some risk in K.L. of typhoid & hepatitis a, it is not considered high for where we are staying and is even lower in Singapore. She felt that as long as my tetanus was up to date (which it isn’t) we would be OK. She also talked us through the risks of rabies and explained to Cameron that sometimes even cute little puppies and kittens may have it and how it could be passed in through biting and scratching etc. I think he is old enough to understand and this is also something I will reinforce as we travel. Hence I felt this is preventable and declined the vaccines for both of us.
Bali is different though, both typhoid and hep a are much higher risk as is japanese encephalitis, especially in the summer or if you are near the damp paddy fields where the mosquito’s thrive – guess who had just booked a beautiful chalet inland for July with a personal hot tub overlooking the paddy fields??? Oh yes that would be me!!!
So I decided that if we are going to have to have Hep A and Typhoid anyway for Bali in July then we might as well have them done now, that way I know we will be going to Malaysia at the end of this month fully protected. (I still have to have a tetanus booster at my own G.P.’s surgery and will book us in for the Japanese Encephalitis vaccines when we drop back into the U.K. in June before heading out to Bali again)
It was explained that I was able to have a combined Hep A and Typhoid jab, but alas that is not licensed for under 16’s so poor Cameron was going to have to have two!!! 💉💉.
Having calmed him down whilst we ‘just talked’ to the nurse, he was now kicking and screaming again (which is totally out of character for him as he is usually the happiest & calmest little boy you could wish to meet) he was shaking and crying and saying he was scared! I was feeling SO guilty putting him through this. The nurse showed me how to grab him and hold him in some sumo style bear hug with his legs astride me facing inward and my arms wrapped tightly around his to stop them moving, Trust me this was no mean feat because as fast as I put his legs across my lap he was fighting me to get down. His screams continued “when are are they going in? when are they going in?”.……..they were already done, and he hadn’t felt a thing! In a split second my happy, smiling little boy returned.
Then it was Mummys turn, I smiled and laughed throughout, even though internally I was feeling much the same as Cam as I am a huge coward when it comes to needles too. Mine was done in a split second as well and I barely felt a thing. Cam got some candy for being brave – I got a bill for £275, which was slightly unfair I felt, they could have at least given me an “I’ve been brave” sticker too!
I had a very sore and heavy arm last night, and also felt a little light headed but thankfully Cam appeared to have no side effects or pain whatsoever. In fact when I was giving him his bath and went to take his little plasters off he said he didn’t even know he had 2, the thought he just had 1.
So we will go away on our next trip vaccinated and safe, I will have much better piece of mind and now that it’s all done and dusted I feel I made the right decisions for both of us.
We will have to go through the ordeal again in June to get the Japanese Encephalitis vaccine done, with 2 shots each a couple of weeks apart. However I am hoping that now Cameron has come through this one barely feeling a thing, he will be much calmer next time. I shall keep my fingers crossed anyway🤞 . For now we are happy & healthy and we intend to stay that way throughout all of our travels.
For up to date information regarding travel vaccinations visit www.travelhealthpro.org.uk This website is updated daily by Public Health England