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William Russell, Healthcare Insurance Experts

GUIDE ON VACCINATIONS FOR EXPAT CHILDREN 

If you and your family have moved to another country, it’s important to make sure your children are kept up-to-date with their vaccinations. Childhood immunization schedules vary from country to country. Here, we answer some of the most common questions about vaccinating expat children.

What are vaccines?

While the concept of vaccination has been around for centuries, it’s only since the late 1800s that systematic mass immunization has come about. Vaccines are there to help our bodies provide immunity against preventable illnesses and diseases by stimulating our antibody response. When done at a mass scale they can even help eradicate diseases altogether.

When will kids get the COVID vaccine?

So far, COVID-19 vaccinations are only being used on adults and older teenagers.

The covid vaccine could be rolled out to children by autumn 2021. Trials are currently underway to test the Pfizer, Moderna, and Oxford-AstraZeneca vaccines in children. 

As of April 7, 2021, a trial of the Oxford-AstraZeneca Covid vaccine on children has stopped giving out jabs while the UK’s medicines regulator investigates a possible link with rare blood clots in adults.

What are childhood vaccination schedules?

Today, most countries have implemented "schedules" for their vaccination programs from a young age. This is to ensure all the correct doses of a vaccine have been administered at effective intervals.

As an expat, the first thing you should know is that these schedules vary from one country to another. That’s because different countries face different health challenges. In some areas, the risk of certain diseases may be higher than in others, and this is reflected in the childhood vaccination schedules.  

Before moving abroad, you’ll need to know which vaccines your child requires and at what stage of their lives. If you live in the EU, there’s a handy tool for finding out when your child’s vaccinations are due. It shows immunization schedules in different EU countries.

Will my child not be vaccinated for some diseases?

If the odds of a particular disease in a certain region are low, your child is unlikely to be offered a routine vaccine. On the other hand, if a particular disease is prevalent in one region, your child may be offered new types of vaccines. This will usually be at the discretion of your vaccine provider, family doctor, or healthcare provider.

One example of this is the BCG vaccine for tuberculosis (TB). This is administered as close to birth as possible in numerous countries but is only offered to babies or children thought to be at an increased risk in the UK, where the risk of TB is much lower.

What’s the childhood immunization schedule where I live?

Vaccination schedule in the UK

In the UK, the National Health Service (NHS) offers a schedule of vaccinations for babies and children. This is offered free of charge for residents of the UK. If your child was born in the UK, it’s likely they would have received at least the first round of immunizations.

Expectant mothers in the UK are also offered a whooping cough vaccine (to provide protection to their unborn child before their first jab) and a flu jab during flu season (protecting both mother and baby). UK hospitals issue a personal child health record book (PCHR, also known as the "Red book") to keep track of your child’s vaccinations, general health checks, and development.

Are there other types of child vaccinations I should know about?

Different countries face different health challenges. In some areas, the risk of certain diseases may be higher than in others and this is reflected in the child's vaccination schedule. Therefore, it may be a good idea to look into additional vaccinations if you are planning to move abroad or are already living in a region facing particular health challenges.

Some common illnesses you may encounter, which can be effectively vaccinated against, include:

  • Yellow fever
  • Hepatitis A
  • Typhoid
  • Tick-borne encephalitis
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Cholera
  • Rabies

If you’re in the UK, some of these vaccines may be available at your GP surgery. Otherwise, you and your child will need to get them from a private health provider.

How do I get my children vaccinated while living abroad?

The best place to start is by asking your family doctor. If you don’t have one, try asking your employer or speaking to authorities in your local area. They should be able to point you in the right direction.

In principle, if the country you are living in has a state-supported healthcare system, and if you are a resident paying taxes, your child should automatically qualify for a state-funded immunization program and development checks.

Many of these vaccination programs visit children in their schools, so you may not need to do anything.

However, rules about access to medical services and facilities are country-specific, so you may need to verify your entitlement and check what you need to do to ensure your child receives their inoculations on time.

If you decide to have vaccinations and checks carried out privately, keep a detailed record of all examinations and injections.

Top tips for getting through childhood vaccinations

1/ Keep a record of your child’s vaccinations

While each country makes efforts to ensure vaccine schedules are spaced out at appropriate intervals for maximum efficacy, it’s up to the parents to keep track of their own child’s immunizations. Most parents will be able to keep track of their child’s vaccinations through their local family doctor. However, as an expat, this can be a challenge.

Some countries (like the UK) issue a health record book at birth, but there are also handy logbooks available to buy online too. Whichever option you choose is fine, so long as it easy for you to keep track of, and of course, portable should you move or travel. Plus it’ll make a handy record to pass onto your child when they eventually move onto their adult vaccination schedules.

2/ Keep calm at the appointments

Children are very instinctive and can sense parents' anxiety a mile away. Whilst it’s natural to worry, the calmer you are, the calmer your child is likely to be. It’s a good idea to explain to your child what they should expect if possible, in simple language.

It’s equally important to allow plenty of time to get to your appointment to avoid any undue stress.

3/ Dress babies and children in easy-to-remove clothing

Babies often need injections in the thigh(s) and children and toddlers usually need injections in the upper arm. You can make the process smoother by dressing your child in easy-to-move/remove clothing such as a sleepsuit for babies or short-sleeved tops for older children.

4/ Bring their favorite treat or distraction

Whilst it’s (almost) always inevitable to get a few tears at these appointments, a good way to minimize the stress is to bring along something to distract your child. It could be as simple as bringing a bottle of milk to the appointment to give a young baby at the end, or letting your child have a little extra time on their handheld console while the jab is being done.

5/ Join a local parent and child group

Being a new parent is challenging no matter which country you are in, and some healthcare systems are more “on the ball” than others. That’s why it’s always a good idea to reach out to other parents, especially local people, for help, friendly advice, and support.

Thankfully, parent and baby groups are typically well established in most large, cosmopolitan cities, from Dubai to Bangkok. Try searching on social media or ask your family doctor for help finding connections.

6/ Speak to a medical professional about your child’s individual schedule

If you have questions about a certain vaccine, or if you are going to be traveling to other countries on a regular basis, it’s a good idea to discuss your child’s proposed immunization plan at an early stage with a medical professional.

In many countries, additional vaccines may be available by request. In Thailand, for instance, you can ask for your child to be inoculated for influenza, Pneumococcal, Rotavirus, and Human Papillomavirus (HPV), subject to discussion with your pediatrician.

You may also want to think about other questions to ask your healthcare provider, such as:

  • Could you add certain vaccines to your schedule?
  • Is a particular treatment recommended?
  • Is the vaccine available in your host country or would you need to travel back to the UK to receive it?
  • What costs would be involved, and what will be covered by your expat medical insurance?
  • Could your current pediatrician administer the injection?
  • How would a joint immunization schedule work in terms of recommended timings and combinations?
  • Are there any possible side effects associated with a particular vaccination?

We urge everyone living abroad to always seek the advice of a qualified healthcare professional before undertaking any immunization program or resuming one already in progress.

This article was provided by expat healthcare insurance experts, William Russell.

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