Monday, December 13, 2010

Getting Immunizations Abroad

Have I mentioned before that being a parent overseas can be a bit scary at times? No? Well, it can. And there is nothing more nerve-wracking than to watch a doctor poke your son with a needle, especially in a foreign country.

Vaccinations are just one of those necessary evils.

We parents all know this. But I must admit that I didn't know much about them before I became a parent myself.

Sure, I'd gotten all those shots before I arrived in Egypt that first time. I was given a list of what I needed and the doctor gave them to me. That was about it.

And if you have kids before you move abroad, you're sure to take care of this issue long before you step foot in a foreign country. But what if you give birth to a child in a foreign country? What do you do about vaccinations then?

After I had my son last year, one of the first things we had to think about was getting him immunized properly here in Egypt.

I had a lot of questions rolling around in my head about giving my son vaccinations in Egypt. Were the vaccinations in Egypt safe? Were they as effective as the ones back home? How would my son react to them? Would he get all the right ones that he needed here? What would happen if we had to move home to the States, would they be considered *done* even if he'd gotten them abroad?

These are all valid questions for a new mom living abroad to ask, don't you think?

And wherever you live I have found that the best thing to do when getting started with vaccinations is to do a little research. Well at least that's what I did.

Being American, I looked up the U.S. vaccination schedule online on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website. I printed it out and took it to our pediatrician in Egypt and discussed it with him. I compared it to the one here in Egypt. I read about vaccinations in the baby books. I talked about with other expat moms.

My theory is that you can never have too much information when it comes to your kids. Just make sure that the information you're getting (and relying on) is from credible sources.

And actually you might be surprised to learn - like I was - that vaccinations given in Egypt are pretty similar to what you have back home. For example, the only vaccination my son's received so far that is not listed on the U.S. schedule was the BCG for tuberculosis. And the timing of shots for him here has been fairly on target with what's customary in the States as well.

Here is what he has received so far (and when he received them):
  • BCG: (shot) Newborn
  • Rotavirus: (oral) 6 weeks, 12 weeks, 23 weeks
  • Polio: (oral) 8 weeks, 16 weeks, 25 weeks
  • DTP/Hib/HepB (combination): (shot) 8 weeks, 16 weeks, 25 weeks 
  • Pneumococal (PCV): (shot) 10 weeks, 18 weeks, 27 weeks
  • MMR: (shot) 12 months old
  • Future vaccinations scheduled: 
    • Chicken Pox (varicella): 13 months old
    • HepA: 14 months old
A note about vaccinations in Egypt: In Egypt, you can choose to get vaccinations done at the pediatrician of your choice or at an Egyptian government health clinic. Although as I understand it that once you start with one, you must continue with that choice. We were told that shots from the health clinic may be more *fresh* although in the end we decided to have our son's pediatrician give our son his shots.

I still need to make sure his immunization records are in order for when our son starts school (either here in Egypt or back home in the States). In case you're American and wondering about this for yourself, the CDC has all the state vaccination requirements available in one place.

Now I don't know where you are and what is available where you're at so if you're reading this and wondering about vaccinations for your child where you live abroad, you will need to do a little legwork to make sure you have all the info you need.

The CDC has great health information specific to Egypt available as well. If you're not in Egypt, you may be able to find your destination here. And here is another great resource for vaccination information as well.

My advice for getting vaccinations for your child in a foreign country:
  1. Print out the vaccination schedule from your home country (if this is what you feel the most comfortable with).
  2. Don't be shy to talk to your pediatrician abroad about it. Ask a million questions if you need to. A good doctor will understand your need to discuss it.
  3. Ask about the local immunization schedule and standards for children. You may be surprised that it might not be so different from your own.
  4. Keep track of updated information regarding vaccinations in both countries (abroad and back home). More information comes out every year and it's important that we as parents know what's going on. One way to stay up-to-date is to sign up for email updates from the CDC.
  5. If you have a pediatrician or family doctor back in your home country, ask them about vaccinations as well. They may not be able to tell you about the country you're in, but they can certainly answer any questions you might have about what your child needs according to that country's standards.
What about you? Have you had experience giving your child vaccinations in a foreign country?

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