BURKINA FASO: A shot in the arm…

In preparation for my next job as Director of Tech at the International School of Ouagadougou, Burkina Faso, I need to get my travel visa in advance. However, to get my visa, I need to have a current Yellow Fever vaccination, since that region of Africa has suffered from YF epidemics in the recent past.

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You’d think this was a simple thing, like in Latvia where I just paid $20 and got all my shots before I moved to Congo, but it’s not. Booster shots have become part of the American Medical-Industrial Complex.

In the US, you can only get YF shots from a registered travel clinic. I checked the CDC website and found that there are only 23 in the state of Maine, but fortunately two are pretty close to me. One, at Bowdoin College, is closed until late August, and the other is closed for the current July 4 weekend.

So I called several others and discovered that you can’t just go in and get a shot….noooo, you have to make an appointment for a consultation with a doctor to discuss your travel plans (for $160). Even for a well-seasoned traveller like myself who knows exactly what I need, I have to do this consultation. Then they charge you for the vaccination: another $60 for what the WHO refers to as ‘a very inexpensive vaccination’ that government agencies are providing worldwide for free to eradicate YF.

I called another few clinics and got the same story. It’s going to cost me over $200 to get this booster.

But that’s not the worst part. The shot is NOT EVEN NEEDED, and there are even potential side effects for someone my age, yet the clinics keep on doing what they are doing!

Historically, the protocol was that you need a YF booster shot every 10 years. But recently, the WHO ruled that a booster was not needed…this was based on the statistic that, of over 600 million YF shots given since the 1930s, only 12 cases of post-vaccination infection have ever occurred, and all of those were within 5 years of immunization. In other words, there are precisely ZERO cases of anyone ever becoming infected after failing to receive a booster, so they have determined that they are not necessary.

But no one told Burkina Faso that. Their protocol is still that you need the booster if your shot is over 10 years old. And since my YF vaccination was in 2001, I am about 4 years past their deadline.

I had considered just photocopying my immunization record and doing a little photoshop on the dates. That would certainly get me my Visa, but I suppose there is a real chance that, in my travels around the other West African countries, someone might turn me back at the border when they look at my vaccination card, since they all are going by the old protocols.

Ultimately, since there is NO RISK involved, I’d like to just find someone to stamp my immunization card and say I had the booster, but no one seems interested in doing that. So I guess I have to bite the bullet and do this unnecessary medical procedure so I can get my visa.

Oh, well….welcome back to Africa. And welcome to the American Medical-Industrial complex.

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