Of all of the things that I said to people before we went travelling, mentioning that we were getting some of our travel vaccinations in Thailand raised the most eyebrows. I know what people were thinking. They were imagining my poor children, sitting on a stained mattress in some insanitary clinic while an unqualified chancer came at them with a rusty, second-hand needle containing God knows what. In reality it was nothing like this; let me tell you, in my best reassuring voice, how it actually went.
First, I need to send some love to the good old British NHS, which has us pretty much covered for vaccinations for free. We all have a full set of childhood immunisations (too numerous to detail), and after discussing our travel plans at length in my surgery they also gave us typhoid and hepatitis A for free, bless them. However, I also wanted us all to get rabies shots as we are likely to end up in some out of the way places on our travels and rabies is not a nice thing should one of us be unlucky enough to be exposed to it (As my Thai doctor helpfully summed it up ‘you get rabies – you die’). As well as rabies I was also considering Japanese encephalitis shots for the same reasons. I have never had either before, even for extended travel, but the level of risk I was happy to take in my twenties has dramatically reduced since I became responsible for two small people.
Wonderful though the NHS is, they can’t (and shouldn’t) stretch to everything so these last two vaccinations have to be funded privately, and boy are they expensive. As an indication, the set of three rabies shots would have cost somewhere in the region of £500-600 for us all if we had them in London, and the four sets of the double Japanese encephalitis jabs would have cost another £500 or so on top of that. That was an extra grand or so to cover what is realistically a very tiny risk; what would you do?
After spending far too long on the internet reading too many tedious science papers and trying to come to a decision, I finally decided to get the jabs in Thailand when we arrived. There are lots of places that you can get this done, particularly in Bangkok, and the cost is just a fraction of what you would pay in the UK.
I chose the Thai Travel Clinic for a couple of reasons: the first is that they are part of the University of Mahidol, and the clinic is run in the actual Hospital for Tropical Diseases so you can be sure they know their stuff. The second was that they have an excellent website in English giving all the details about costs and which vaccines they use so you can double-check you are happy with what you are going to get beforehand, as some may not be the same as those that are licensed in your own country.
Rocking up on the day we arrived in Thailand to this lovely shiny new building was reassuring. Inside it was a pristine hive of quiet activity. We all had a quick check up with the nurse before going to meet the doctor. After having a proper grown-up conversation with him about the vaccinations and the risk factors involved, we decided to go for both. You have to pay first and then collect your own medicines from the pharmacy, so if you are anything like me you can check the name of what you are getting and the expiry dates yourself, before giving them to the nurse to do the actual injection.
I will just skim over the next part, pausing only to say that although there were certainly no rusty needles or bloodstained beds there was plenty of crying and holding down of small children that I would like to forget. The nurses were both quick and brilliant with the kids, I can’t fault any part of the process.
We had to go back seven days later for the second of the three required rabies shots, but by the time the last one was due (21 days later) we had travelled to Koh Phangan, so we found a private place in Thongsala called First Western Hospital to do that one. Again, they were excellent, although significantly more expensive than the Bangkok hospital, but we were on an island, so we expected to pay more.
Our experience was overwhelmingly positive, the hospitals were scrupulously clean, everyone involved was thoroughly professional and we would have no qualms about getting travel vaccinations in Thailand again. So, what was the damage?
The vaccinations at the Thai Travel Clinic cost –
1st visit (rabies and Japanese encephalitis) 1169 Baht each = 4677 (£91.26)
2nd visit (rabies 2nd shot) 654 Baht each = 2616 (£51.06)
The vaccination at First Western Hospital, Koh Pa Ngan cost –
1st visit (rabies 3rd shot) 1210 each = 4840 Baht (£94.47)
Grand total = 12133 Baht (£236.80)
I am sure you will be pleased to know that we are all still in fine fettle with no apparent ill effects. The kids took a few days to forgive us after each hospital visit, but that was helped along by some overcompensation in the form of ice cream and fizzy juice so we are all friends again, for the time being anyway.