Navigating The High Cost of Travel Immunizations in the USA

I’m planning the next leg of my round-the-world trip, and unlike my recent stint in Europe, this one involves possible travel to remote areas of mountains and jungles in third world countries. I may be in areas that have poor water, are mosquito laden, and have wild or domestic animals that completely lack or are not up-to-date on their shots, putting all animals and humans around them at risk.

This means I need to get immunizations and/or vaccinations for a variety of illnesses that I might contract. All of this is hypothetical, but you can’t take chances with your health and with your life, and I also don’t want to hold off on spontaneous travel to certain countries just because I didn’t get a vaccination ahead of time.

Unfortunately, I had no idea that the general price tag of my ten or so vaccinations would be around $1800 USD. This threw me – a lot! So instead of just wincing and plopping down my credit card, I decided to do some research and see how I could minimize the cost of my immunizations and vaccinations.

I found that in the USA, unless you have an unusual stellar health insurance plan, which is unlikely for a previously-corporate-nomad, the cost for preventative travel vaccinations appears to be pretty outrageous. With a little bit of research I found that some third world countries do offer lower prices once you get there, but there isn’t a lot of research to confirm how up-to-date the vaccinations are, and if they are high quality. And some of the shots would be after I arrived, which in part defeats the purpose. Since I don’t want to take risks with my health, I decided to find the best way to afford the costs in the USA or seriously consider a quick, cheap flight to southern Canada to achieve medical cost savings.

So, why are travel immunization/vaccinations so expensive in the USA? This is a LOADED question I MIGHT answer at a later time. For now, let’s just tackle the why, when, how and the cost of necessary vaccinations.

Note: I’m currently doing research and writing this, and it’s lengthy, so if you are reading it and it is not yet complete, please come back to read the rest, which will be finished shortly.

My Upcoming Travel Destinations

In the next few months I plan to visit many of these countries, and possibly more:

  • Japan, China, Philippines, Australia, New Zealand, Indonesia, Thailand, Vietnam, Cambodia, Laos, Bhutan, Nepal, India, Israel, Jordan, Egypt, Greece, Czech Republic, Poland, Germany, Italy, France, Hungary, Portugal, Spain, Morocco, USA and Canada.

I scheduled an appointment with Passport Health to discuss my round the world trip and my prospective destinations. I did much of the work online before I arrived, and selected country after country from a list. It was a good exercise, as it reminded me of a bunch of places I had thought of going to, like Bhutan, but had forgotten to put on my list. Once I selected all of my countries, Passport Health was able to generate a report that advised all recommended vaccinations per destination, and some travel advisories, based on information provided by organizations such as the CDC (Center for Disease Control). I’ll go into more detail on my visit to Passport Health in a separate post and link it back to here soon.

My Current Travel Vaccination Hit List

Many of my vaccinations will be for the early to mid part of my trip during my time in Asia. Here is the list of vaccinations I need based on the countries I plan to travel to:

  1. Hepatitis A (series of 2)
  2. Japanese Encephalitis
  3. Rabies (series of 3)
  4. Polio (I have no prior proof)
  5. Yellow Fever (avoid sick people for a few days after this)
  6. Typhoid (avoid sick people for a few days after this)
  7. Tetanus
  8. Meningitis
  9. Malaria (these are pills to take while traveling)

And these are vaccinations to consider:

  1. Hepatitis B
  2. Pneumonia (I get bronchitis a lot from allergies)

I will now outline how to navigate the high costs of these travel immunizations!

Travel Vaccinations and Health Insurance

I’ve found that most insurance companies do not or will not cover a majority of travel vaccinations or immunizations. Since I am currently in an odd insurance limbo, it boosts my need for finding the best out of pocket costs. Since I left my job a few months ago in June, I traveled the world and used World Nomads as my insurance, which is mostly catastrophic and doesn’t cover this type of cost involving preventative medicine, vaccines or shots. But had I paid for U.S. health insurance while traveling in France, Italy and Sweden, it would have been useless, and nothing would have been covered if I got sick. So I delayed my third world shots and hence after Europe travels my research has begun.

So my travel plan so far for health is to use a solid World Nomads type of coverage that ensures I’ll get the critical care I need wherever I am, and then when I’m sick with a more routine illness like bronchitis, and need a doctor, I’ll pay out of pocket.

However since I’m in the U.S. currently for a few weeks, I do feel I need an interim policy, and it is possible that this might cover some of my vaccinations. Ugh. So I’m back to research. Once I find the best out of pocket costs I can, whether through a service like Passport Health, Walgreens Health Clinics or the Center for Disease Control (CDC), I’ll compare those costs with getting a short term policy from a company like Blue Cross of Florida, and see if the policy will cover ANY of the vaccinations. After I do that research, I’ll update it on my blog.

Hepatitis A

I’ve already started my protocol with Hep A at Passport Health. I took my first round of a series of two shots back in April. My second and final round is due approximately 6 months after the first. So, I plan to have that shot in August or early September. Here are my costs for Hepatitis A vaccination in Orlando Florida:

Cost of Hepatitis A Travel Protocol – 2 Rounds of Shots (Avaxim) within 6 months:

      • Shot #1 on Day 1: $110
      • Shot #2 on Day 182: $110

Hepatitis A Total Cost: $220

Japanese Encephalitis

Japanese Encephalitis (JEV) is high risk and therefore mandatory. It is vaccine preventable. It’s a virus related to dengue, yellow fever and West Nile Viruses. It’s the leading cause of viral encephalitis in Asia, and is spread by mosquitoes. Humans cannot transmit JEV. It is vaccine preventable.

Cost of Japanese Encephalitis Travel Protocol – 2 Rounds of Shots, 4 Weeks Apart:

      • Shot #1 on Day 1: $350
      • Shot #2 on Day 28: $350

Japanese Enchephalitis Total Cost: $700


Lots to learn. I don’t plan to work in a zoo, but I definitely want to go to the Monkey Jungle in Bali, and I also might volunteer to work on some farms in Tasmania that have animals. If one animal were to so much as scratch me, whether playfully or purposefully, I could get rabies. Or if a cute dog in the streets of Cambodia jumped up to play and get a pet from me, and it accidentally, even playfully bit me, it could kill me. It’s possible that I may not hang out with animals at all! But I do love them, so I this is a risk I can’t and won’t take.

I found that rabies is 99.9999% fatal, and I also found out that depending on where you are, post-attack treatment is not always available or 100% safe, updated or effective, so yes, I plan to get a round of rabies shots. Yes, a round – it appears 3 shots in total, to be exact. And each round apparently costs $325. So a round of rabies shots for me will cost $975, and will take course over a 21 day period like this:

Cost of Rabies Travel Protocol – 3 Rounds of Shots within 21 Days:

      • Shot #1 on Day 1: $325
      • Shot #2 on Day 7: $325
      • Shot #3 on Day 21: $325

Rabies Total Cost: $975

So – Rabies is the next stop on my round the world immunizations. I’m in California right now for a few weeks visiting family and friends before I head off to the big yonder of Asia. So before I go, my shots must start here.

There are two ways to do Rabies: 21 or 28 day protocol. They both start the same, with your first shot on day 0, and then your next shot a week later, after your immunity has had a chance to get things going, on Day 7. Then, depending on your schedule, you can finish the series with a shot on Day 21 or Day 28. In my case, I will probably do the 21 day protocol as I am heading out to Asia in less than 4 weeks. So this means that I need my Day 0 to happen in the next couple days. Since I’m in California, and there is no Walgreens Health Clinic nearby, I will have to go to a different location for Day 0 and Day 7. Luckily, a lot of people travel in and out of California, so there are a few choices for this next immunization. I found two different clinics nearby and will call tomorrow to setup an appointment. The first will have to be in Los Angeles where I am now, and the second will have to be in San Francisco, where I’ll be next week. So, I’ll go ahead and schedule that appointment ahead of time as well. Since I’m not with a car here, I’ll have to Uber to both, but that should be no more than a $5 Uber each way. My third shot will likely happen when I return to Orlando for a few days at the end of the month, prior to heading out to Asia.

Next – More Details Coming Soon:

  • Polio (I have no prior proof)
  • Yellow Fever (avoid sick people)
  • Typhoid (avoid sick people)
  • Tetanus
  • Meningitis
Written by Suzi Albrecht
Digital Project Manager and Traveler