At Pediatric Associates of Richmond, we encourage families who are able to travel internationally to take the opportunity. As PAR’s own Dr. Matthew Weber, M.D., put it to us: “It’s important to see other places and meet people, see how other parts of the world live.”
Even before the COVID-19 health crisis began, travel to many international countries incurred considerable health risks. Parents who planned to head overseas with their kids would often turn to pediatricians for pre-departure advice on vaccines, adverse climate conditions and other topics.
Dr. Weber and PAR’s Kristin Flohre, C.P.N.P., began offering international travel consultations several years ago to prepare local families for their adventures abroad. Their schedules became fully booked within a few months; Richmonders were even more travel-happy than expected!
The pandemic, of course, caused the number of consultation bookings to drop significantly; most of the few remaining appointments were with patients preparing to visit family. Now, as countries reopen their borders to visitors despite the delta variant spreading in more than 160 nations, staying on top of your family’s health as you leave the country is more important than ever.
Here are a few things to know about international travel consultations before you book an appointment ahead of your next family voyage.
What is international travel consultation?
International travel consultation allows pediatricians to provide specific, customized travel advice to parents while preparing children for their upcoming adventures. It is an officially recognized practice, with more than 4,000 physicians, nurses and other health professionals from 100 countries having joined the International Society of Travel Medicine. (Dr. Weber is himself a member and attends ISTM conferences.)
Before each appointment, consultants like Dr. Weber and Mrs. Flohre do their research on the health situation in whatever country or countries the patient plans to visit. Dr. Weber likes to check out the latest international travel guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
What goes into an appointment?
Parents interested in an international travel consultation with PAR can schedule an appointment over the phone. Consultations should take place at least three or four weeks before departure, as some countries require certain vaccinations to be administered a month in advance.
The average international travel consultation takes 15 to 20 minutes. During that time, Dr. Weber or Mrs. Flohre talk through the family’s travel itinerary, chronic medical problems, concerns for travel and routine vaccines.
All family members planning to travel should attend, according to Dr. Weber. Folks of all ages can benefit from even the simplest advice, like remembering to wear bug spray in countries with malaria or to stay hydrated in high-altitude situations.
Young patients may also receive certain vaccines or medicines during the appointment. Those available from PAR include prophylactic protection from malaria as well as the vaccines for hepatitis A, measles and typhoid. (U.S. children are routinely vaccinated against hepatitis A and measles, but these vaccinations are sometimes accelerated for youngsters headed to certain countries.)
Some vaccines PAR does not offer include the yellow fever vaccine — which is only available through one provider in the entire Richmond area — as well as Japanese encephalitis and rabies. PAR, of course, only administers available vaccines to children; adults needing certain vaccines before departure should contact their general physician.
Dr. Weber’s family travel tips
“I’ve always said that if I couldn’t have done what I’m doing, I would have wanted to be a travel agent,” Dr. Weber said during our conversation.
Indeed, Dr. Weber has visited several countries over the years. And now that their two daughters are college-aged, he and his wife are making a list of new places to explore.
Some of Dr. Weber’s favorite past vacations include trips to Croatia, Austria, Hawaii and France; some were just with his wife, while the kids joined for others. During those full-family trips, the Webers picked up plenty of knowledge on traveling internationally with kids.
Here are a few of Dr. Weber’s practical recommendations. He encourages everyone on the trip to bring an extra copy of his or her passport; anyone getting a passport for the first time should apply well in advance, as the process can take months. He also urges travelers to make sure any necessary medicines are always handy.
Before departing, Dr. Weber says parents should involve the kids in the planning process as much as possible. Each child should have a say in what he or she wants to do while exploring a new place.
When visiting Paris as a family, one of Dr. Weber’s daughters wanted to do more active, nature-involved activities, while the other was more into museums. “So, we fit in a little bit of both,” he said.
He added that parents should be cautious not to over-schedule the trip, especially with activities the kids might not enjoy as much as the grownups. “Most five-year-olds don’t want to spend three hours in an art museum,” he said. “Some of the best times on a trip are finding a playground and letting [the kids] hang out there for a little bit.”
To schedule an international travel consultation, call Pediatric Associates of Richmond at (804) 282-4205. Click here for more information on our international travel consultations as well as vaccine providers in the area.