I went to get my first essential travel immunization shots taken when I went to Cuba at the end of 2008. I made an appointment with the Travellers’ Health Clinic of Capital Health in Edmonton, Alberta and went to talk with the nurse about what shots I should get. I told her I was going to Cuba, she looked up what known health dangers existed in Cuba so she could suggest important immunization but Cuba is generally considered a safe country with no major epidemic risks. Regardless, the nurse suggested that I take at least Hepatitis A vaccination and a Tetanus booster as part of the essential protection just in case.
She asked me if I planned any future visits to foreign countries which could help her pinpoint what other shots I should take so I told her that I would like to go to Iceland sometimes within next year, but Iceland is one of the safest countries in the world with absolutely nothing a traveller needs to get immunized against.
Nurse asked me whether I wanted both Hepatitis A and Hepatitis B to go along with the tetanus, but since Hep B is sexually transmitted disease and I was not planning to get sexually active in Cuba, I stuck with just Hep A, which transmits through food or water. A guy needs to eat and drink wherever he is, but I leave sexual encounters to reasonably safe countries with low incidence of HIV and AIDS.
There was also an option for me to take a Rabies shot, but just as it was with sexual encounters, I was not planning to play with random Cuban animals so I opted against it. Strangely enough, in order to get immunized against Rabies as a traveller from Canada, you need to pay for your vaccines, but if you get infected with Rabies, then the treatment is free. Rabies shot was one of the most expensive to take too, so I definitely decided against it. Why prevention costs so much money while treatment is free is beyond me! Shouldn’t it be the other way around?
I ended up going with Hepatitis A and Tetanus. I had to pay for the Hep shot, but Tetanus booster was free. I thought getting two shots at the same time was more than enough for my body so I didn’t want to consider any more injection bombs at this time. I was advised that I could come for a Twinrix booster shot in 6 months time which would then offer 20 years of protection against both Hep A and Hep B.
When time came to take off my shirt and have the syringes enter by shoulder muscles, the nurse asked me whether I was right-handed or left-handed. Since I am right-handed, she was gonna give me the Hep A shot in my right arm because the occurrence of adverse effects is very low with this shot, whereas the Tetanus vaccine is a tough one with more than 50% of patients experiencing severe discomfort, pain, nausea, vomiting or fever.
I took the shots and it was as expected. My right arm was only slightly sore for about an hour or two, but my left arm where I took the Tetanus shot got intensely painful to a point that I couldn’t move my arm, sleep on the left hand side or do anything with this part of my body. I suffered from severe fever for about 5 days and just as I was ready to go back to the clinic to tell them that the pain is not subsiding and the fever is still very bad, it started to get better. After one week of intense pain in my left shoulder I was able to ride a bicycle again however the pain has not dispersed entirely until more than two weeks later.
Immunization against Tetanus is truly painful. Luckily I did go to get my shots done more than a month prior to taking the trip to Cuba so I didn’t board a plane with sore arm, but damn, was the pain ever intense… Had I known it was gonna put me through whole week of inability to function properly and feel sick while I’m at it, I wouldn’t have taken it in the first place. Luckily, it’s all good now and I should be immunized against Tetanus for some 10 years.
Hepatitis A protection was also in place and from what the nurse told me, the Hep one starts to protect within hours, whereas the Tetanus one takes a couple of weeks to take full effect. By the time I was on a plane to Cuba, I was already well protected.
Iceland didn’t require any additional immunization but after I realized I was going to Cambodia, I went back to the Travellers’ Clinic to get additional shots done. First of all, I wanted the Twinrix shot for both Hep A and Hep B protection and I also got a Measles, Mumps and Rubella booster shot. None of these caused any adverse effects and come the following day, I didn’t even know I was just vaccinated.
Sadly, there is no shot to immunize travelers against Malaria which is endemic in Cambodia, or HIV which is equally bad. There are anti-malarial pills on the market, but are only recommended for short term use (one, max two weeks). Any long term use could be potentially more harmful than Malaria itself so if you are planning a long term stay in Malaria endemic areas, you’re better off getting malaria than taking anti-malarials for an extended period of time.