woman meeting with pharmacist

Six weeks before spring break travel means it’s time to get down to business.

Presented in partnership with Shoppers Drug Mart

What are your plans for spring break? Like many Canadians, we use this time of year to get a good dose of Vitamin D. Sinking our toes in to the sand helps us make it through these harsh Canadian winters. So far Costa Rica and Mexico are on our family’s hit list. Besides arranging tickets and accommodation, getting up to date with our traveller’s vaccines is something we have to book out as well. Thankfully, most Shopper’s Drug Marts in Alberta offer travel health consultations, so we can get this task done quickly and affordably.

Woman at ecuador equator

Here I am in Ecuador at the equator. I’m so fortunate I didn’t get ill on that trip. I was missing so many vaccines!

I used to be so on top of my vaccinations when I was a hard core traveller. Now I’ve become a total slacker. Many of my trips are last minute, and it’s such a pain to book into those travel health clinics that are always located too far away. I didn’t even bother when I went to Ecuador 18 months ago, which was a mistake, because I was hit hard by altitude sickness. With Costa Rica coming up I have to be on the ball, and considering we’re six weeks away from Easter, now is the perfect time to book in for a travel health consultation.

Shoppers Drug Mart Travel Health Clinic

Many Shoppers Drug Marts in Alberta, and some in other provinces, now offer travel consultation services. You have to book in for your appointment, but you get in fast. Because their pharmacies are open during regular Shoppers hours, you can nail this task on a weekend or evening. Major time saver after being restricted to banker’s hours!

It’s a $30 fee for the consultation and there’s a one-time injection fee of $20, plus the cost of the vaccines. If you’re coming in with a group of four or more, the rate goes down to $25 per person. This consultation fee is way lower than what you’d find at a regular travel clinic.

Shoppers drug mart Pharmacist

My main man, Mr. Patel, a pharmacist at Shoppers Drug Mart looks up what travel vaccines I need. Smart!

I met with Mr. Patel, the Pharmacy Manager at my local Shoppers. After filling out a quick questionnaire detailing where I’m going, we got down to business. Because I’m headed to Costa Rica and possibly Mexico, we focused on those regions.

pharmacist consultation

Mr. Patel is like, seriously, my new BFF. He’s super smart without making me feel stupid, if you know what I mean.

Like I did with Patel, you’ll discuss your immunization and health history. From there, the pharmacist will figure out what’s needed based on your current medications and trip location. Patel wanted to chat about the kind of activities I’d be doing during my travels. He even looked up if there were any medical advisories for the countries on my hit list. These pharmacists also dish out useful nuggets, like Patel told me many health care providers cover travel vaccinations. I had no idea! I’ve been paying out of pocket for years.

Recommended Travel Vaccines

Soon we got down to the nitty gritty of travel vaccines. Basically if you’re travelling anywhere outside of North America, Western Europe, Japan, Australia and New Zealand, you ought to get vaccinated against both Hepatitis A and B.

Hep A is spread by contaminated food and water and Hep B through body fluids. The Twinrix vaccine is what you’ll want to get. After your first shot, you’ll have to go back for your second 30 days later and the final one six months after your first. If you’re in a hurry and are leaving in less than six months, they can do accelerated dosing weeks before your trip. Fortunately I’m up to date with both Hep A and B.

Tetanus is something everyone needs to get vaccinated against every 10 years. It’s important to have this whether you’re travelling or not. You know, in case you step on a rusty nail or something. Lucky me, I was up to date on this one, too. 

woman stressed in doctor's office

The Huz takes a candid shot of me absorbing that I have to get a needle. Like, now!

Then came the bad news. Costa Rica is at a high risk for rabies. Ugh! I need to get this vaccine and it ain’t cheap. Hello group insurance plan! Rabies is a three part shot. Once I get my first one, I have to get another a week later and the final shot two weeks after that. Fortunately, I have enough time before spring break. I hate needles so I tried to argue my way out of this one. The risk, Patel explained, is if I get bitten by a dog, or bat, or whatever, I’d have to get the vaccine immediately in whatever country I’m in and then get another shot three days later. No thanks. Patel’s logic won out.

woman gets a shot from dr

But hey, it ain’t so bad! Jody rises to the challenge, ensuring successful spring break travel. (Heartfelt applause ensues.)

Yellow Fever is something you need to be protected against if visiting countries in Asia, South and Central America, but not Mexico or Costa Rica. But get this, say you were in Argentina (a yellow fever country) and are in transit to a non-yellow fever country, a boarder agent could demand to see your yellow fever certificate before allowing you in. I can’t believe the Pharmacy dude knew this and I didn’t!

Typhoid Fever is another vaccine to be on top of. Typhoid is caught from contaminated water. The one shot is good for three years or you can take it as an oral dose (four taken every other day a week before your departure). The oral dose lasts for seven years. Guess what? I’m behind on this one, as well! Some kind of travel writer I am.

The flu vaccine is recommend for Costa Rica, so despite being early March, I got that one, too. The last thing I want is to have to look for a travel clinic in a foreign country if I get sick.

Fortunately I don’t have to worry about Malaria as Mexico, Costa Rica and the majority of the Caribbean aren’t at risk. Phew!

couple on lover's beach

My stomach looks relatively flat this particular day in Cabo because, well, guess who got Montezuma’s revenge?

How to Prevent Travellers’ Diarrhea

I’ve written about the Dukoral vaccine before and I think it’s worth considering before travel. You take this oral vaccine twice. The first is at two weeks before your departure and then the week before. Patel tells me it has a 70% success rate. Anything that keeps me on the beach and off the toilet is tops in my books. I bet my friend Michelle wishes her husband took this before their 10-year anniversary trip to Sayulita, Mexico.

How to Prevent Altitude Sickness

This is where my Shoppers Pharmacist truly rocked. Anytime you’re going higher than 2300 m (7500 ft) above sea level, you’re at risk for acute mountain sickness. I was blasé about this after having hiked in Pakistan and Nepal. Yet, I felt terrible in Quito, the capital city of Ecuador. The next time I’m going that high, Patel recommends I take Diamox, as preventative medicine. You only have to take half a tablet twice a day 24 hours before ascending. You can take this diuretic for the next two to three days until acclimatized. If I’d known that I wouldn’t have pounded so much coca tea in Ecuador! (OK, maybe I would’ve…) Consider getting Diamox if you’re headed to Peru, Ecuador and certain parts of Asia like Nepal, India and even Thailand.

It goes without saying I’m not a doctor or pharmacist. Please consult your own health care team to ensure you’re making the best choices for your body. Saddle up to the pharmacy counter at any Shoppers Drug Mart and book in for an appointment to get your specific travel needs met.

Are you up to date on your travel vaccines? Do you have a clever way of remembering to keep them up to date?