Preparing for a family gap year is a task not to be underestimated. We have been planning for nearly a year already. From staring at maps, getting an idea of routes and desired destinations, to investigating accommodation, car rentals and activities, the list is endless. One major part of our preparations is ensuring we can access proper healthcare throughout. This is particularly important given we have a newborn and my husband is a type 1 diabetic. In the coming weeks, I am going to write a series of blogs with different topics about preparing for a family gap year.
Preparing for a family gap year – healthcare series
Getting childhood vaccinations abroad
Our newborns vaccination schedule was the basis of all our travel plans. We needed to ensure we could access them in a place where healthcare was good and reliable. It has taken me quite a while to find somewhere that was willing to use the UK vaccination schedule since that’s what we started on. In most instances when I contacted local immunisation centres, they were not so much help.
However, I was advised to contact a tourist specific healthcare clinic. So for example, in Vancouver, we will use Stein Medical for our sons three month vaccinations. it will cost 160 Canadian dollars for the prescription. We have to take it to the pharmacist to dispense and they will also administer.
In the UK, we are given a red book to record all of our child’s healthcare visits. From tracking weight to immunisations and community visits, all the info is inside. We have to bring that book with us to ensure the practitioner abroad has all of the information required.
Depending on your destination, I highly recommend sorting this out far in advance. This was personally the biggest worry for me so I was delighted to get it sorted. Our older daughter who is three will also need some immunisations mid-trip as per UK childhood immunisation schedule.
Tracking our newborns development
Having extensively reviewed what check-ups are required here in the UK, I do not feel we are going to be missing out on much. Our son will have his 8 week check and first set of vaccinations before we leave. The 8 week check involves a more thorough review by a doctor rather than a health visitor. I wouldn’t want to miss that.
However, all of the check-ups following that are for height and weight measurements. I feel this is something I could check and graph myself in his red book given I am a registered nurse. If he loses weight or is not growing, I will take him to see a paediatrician whilst we are away.
On our return home, he will have his one year check-up with a health visitor. In the UK, this is usually a more in-depth review of language, behaviour, diet and learning. I don’t have any experience in this field so I would feel this something not to be missed.
Getting travel insurance for an entire family for a year away is actually quite tricky. Most companies will only cover for 30 consecutive days abroad. Equally, there is an expectation to have a permanent address. Its complicated further by my husbands need to cover a long term health condition.
When searching for travel insurance, it’s really important to ensure the healthcare cover is excellent. Check how much the cover is, the excess, and if you would be repatriated to your home country. These are the things I have learnt are important when looking for travel insurance.
Getting a full check up before leaving
If you are anything like me, you will save up all your ailments to discuss with the GP at once. Wether it’s a verruca or some dental issues, worsening eye site, its best to get it all checked and sorted before leaving. This past week I have been to the dentist and the GP to get everything reviewed.
My husband went to see his specialist diabetes doctor just a couple of weeks ago ahead of the trip. He discussed his plans to ensure he was allowed to have extra stock of insulin and medical equipment. He also had all the usual diabetes checks of blood sugar levels and a foot health check. All he needs now is a retinopathy review and he will be fully ready for a long adventure.
If you have read any of my previous travel health articles, you will know I suggest going to a travel clinic 6-8 weeks in advance of your trip. It’s worth researching your destinations in advance. For us, we are going to be in Canada and the USA first. So I feel like it may be better to have some things like the oral cholera vaccination closer to the time when we need it as it only lasts three months.
If you are travelling to multiple countries like us, you may need some vaccines along the way rather than before you leave. Regardless we will be having an appointment beforehand to get the long acting jabs in advance. Our newborn will not be able to have many given his age so its super important that I am breastfeeding to pass on immunity. It may seem like a relatively unreliable way of protecting baby, however I have full faith it offers protection. Again, I am not preaching this information, this is just my take on it.
When he starts weaning to solid foods, I will introduce infant probiotics to protect his stomach from bugs. I will also give the same to my daughter. This will only be when we are in developing countries as opposed to western, developed places.
Having almost completed our sons vaccination schedule until he is one years old, I wanted to update this page with our experience of doing this abroad.
I initially planned to have his 12 week vaccinations in Canada. It was all planned in advance, I set it up with a private clinic. When I got there they told me they couldn’t do it! That was after several emails and calls to confirm, so, as you can imagine I was upset. Eventually we found a willing clinic in Vancouver.
We had the rest of his vaccinations in Antigua, Guatemala. I found DR Oscar Asturias was highly recommended online and his cell number was easily found It’s impressive that a medical professional could be that accessible. I gave him a list of vaccines and his simple answer was “my pleasure”!
Not only that but he came to our hotel and administered all the necessary vaccinations to all of us. We actually needed some Hep A boosters so it was perfect.
How it worked out
It worked out our son had a fever the day before we planned to have the visit so he also attended to him. He examined him in full and got us some sample kits for urine and ran full laboratory testing on it. Obviously it was not ideal for him to have a vaccine at that time so he gave us the meds to have administered by a nurse at a later date when he was feeling better.
He sees there is a market for tourism healthcare in Central America and currently setting up a business throughout so house calls will be accessible in many places. After working in Canada for 8 years his standard of care is on par with my expectation of that in the UK. He also speaks French and he contributes to the local community in a volunteering capacity.
I haven’t hear of many doctors that have modern attitudes towards communication (whatsapp ) and payment (PayPal). It made it so much easier for us. I cannot recommend him highly enough.
Have you found the healthcare series of preparing for a family gap year helpful? This is our first of many so stay tuned for series two.
This article is not intended as medical advice.
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