Travelling with a baby has profoundly changed our travel experience. We wander less, we rest more and we are typically back in our room starting our evening sleepy-times routine by 5pm. We also go to the doctor far more often and with Zoe's six month vaccinations/immunizations coming due while we were in Edinburgh we had good cause to introduce ourselves to the local medical system.
Vaccinating an Australian baby in the UK. How hard could it be?
For those who want to follow along or who have an Australian child who needs vaccinating, here is the Australian vaccination schedule.
For comparisons sake, here is the UK vaccination schedule.
The first issue was whether or not Zoe's vaccinations would be covered under the NHS or whether we would have to pay. We wouldn't mind paying if necessary but we certainly wouldn't say no to it being done for free. After all, vaccinations are free for us in Australia and our two countries have a reciprocal healthcare agreement. Sounds promising.
We sought to confirm that we would be able to get Zoe her vaccinations and that they would indeed be covered under the NHS by asking people we hoped would know. British citizens among our friends and family, Australian medical professionals, British medical professionals working in Australia, they all agreed that it would be no problem at all getting them done and that it would almost certainly be covered under the NHS.
All this repeated confirmation, from people who all meant well, filled us with warm fuzzy complacency. That lasted right up until the moment we arrived in the UK and actually telephoned some clinics to try to make an appointment.
The first place we contacted said they would happily give Zoe her vaccinations... for six hundred pound. At the time of writing that is about $1100 (Australian).
Another said they don't deal with non-residents who are not already registered under the NHS. Go somewhere else. It wasn't an emergency or anything but being flat out turned away by a healthcare provider was a new experience.
The staff at one particular clinic were very sympathetic and explained that the reciprocal agreement only covers medical treatment for conditions whose symptoms appeared after you arrived in the UK. The symptom "requires immunization" does not qualify so they could give Zoe her shots but they would have to charge. After a few days they were still unsure of just how much it would cost however they assured us that it would be astronomical so they referred us to another place that was sure to be cheaper. It turned out to be the first clinic we contacted, the one that wanted six hundred pound.
We had been focusing on clinics in Edinburgh. What about London, where we were going next? Even more expensive.
Around this time we became aware of a second problem. Go and look at the Australian Vs the UK schedule. Look really closely... Do you see it yet? Give up?
The Australian schedule calls for three doses of Rotavirus vaccine. The UK schedule calls for two doses. Why is that? The different number of doses is because the UK uses a brand of rotavirus vaccine called Rotarix, which requires two doses. Austalia uses Rotateq, which requires three doses. And no, they are not interchangeable.
You would think someone would be able to track down a dose of Rotateq somewhere in the UK but you would be wrong. Apparently, not a single dose of Rotateq is to be found anywhere this side of the English channel. Regardless of our willingness to pay, we simply could not get a dose of Rotateq short of getting on a plane and flying to Spain.
Can Zoe disregard her previous doses of Rotateq, start over and take the two dose course of Rotarix? No, she is too old. Can she get the third dose of Rotateq when we return to Australia or even restart the whole course? No, by then she will be too old. Our understanding is that these vaccines have only received sufficient testing within a very narrow age range and no doctor will administer them to a person outside of that age range (understandably).
At this point we seriously considered flying to Spain just to get Zoe's vaccinations done. Even with airfares and accommodation it was looking like the cheaper option. However, before we resorted to getting on a plane, some pieces finally fell into place.
Firstly, we found a clinic in Edinburgh whose prices were less eye-watering. They also seemed genuinely interested in trying to figure out our situation. Secondly, we had a long email conversation with our extraodinarily helpful GP back in Australia. Finally, we got to a point where we could move forward.
It was a fairly typical cloudy Edinburgh day when we strolled in to see the helpful people at Your GP. The staff triple checked that Zoe was going to receive the correct brands and doses of everything while Tanya and I had a cup of tea. Then, finally, Zoe received all of her six month vaccinations EXCEPT for Rotavirus.
It was ultimately decided that simply skipping the third dose of Rotateq would be fine. Having only had two of the three doses of Rotateq will not result in her being excluded from childcare, school camps or similar. Based on my own research even an incomplete course of Rotateq seems to offer a significant amount of protection. We have also now decided to go to Spain after London and will arrive there shortly before the end of Zoe's eligibility for that third dose of Rotateq. If we can track down a dose of Rotateq in our first week in Spain she may receive it yet.
Final cost, 185 pound and a decent sized dose of confusion and frustration. It was not cheap but it could have been a lot worse. Zoe's next round of vaccinations is at 12 months of age and we will be making sure that we are in Australia at the time.