Photo (57)By Vicki Barnes

Depending on where you are traveling, immunizations can mean the difference between life and death.

Seriously. Get your shots before you go.

Vaccines are the most important tool you can have against getting sick – perhaps with a life-threatening illness – when you travel abroad.

Every country is different. Some countries require certain vaccinations prior to entry, others merely suggest the ones you should have. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has a feature on their website that allows you to plug in the name of the country you will be visiting and information about the kind of traveler you are (traveling with children, mission or volunteer work, etc.) and with the click of the mouse, find out what is required or suggested for your destination.

Take that information and have a chat with your doctor. Our doctor agreed that we should get the Hepatitis A and B vaccines, a rabies vaccination and a course of anti-malarial medication. He also wrote a prescription for antibiotics in case we get into some bad water or food.

Don’t think that your local health department will always have the best deal on vaccinations. For example, the Hepatitis vaccine at our doctor for a self-pay patient was $65 for each of the four shots of Twinrix, which protects against both Hepatitis A and B. At the health department, they offered the same medication at $108 per shot.

The antimalarial drugs offered by the private doctor and the health department are different sorts so the prices are hard to compare. Mefloquine is given in a weekly dose and can cost from $10 to $12 a pill, depending on the pharmacy. The health department offered a daily pill, Malarone, which cost $25 for a two week supply. They also said they could not prescribe more than two weeks of pills. The pills are unequal in the way they work. Side effects are many and varied. Discuss the treatment with your doctor before you decide on the medicine. You might decide a better investment might be some good mosquito netting and a heavy supply of DEET.

Aside from the flight to your destination, the vaccinations could turn out to be the most expensive part of your travel plans. Consider your options and shop around for the best price.

Skipping the vaccinations could be expensive as well. If you get sick abroad and treatment is not available where you are, transportation to a city where it is available (or an unplanned trip home for care) can add up quickly.

Don’t take chances with your health or your wallet. Properly prepare yourself with vaccines.