CARTAGENA, Colombia- “Is yellow fever common in Colombia?” I asked the vaccination specialist who was logging the pertinent details of my bio into a little yellow booklet that was sitting before her on a large desk.
“No,” she replied sternly, “because we vaccinate.”
“Is there malaria in Colombia?” I then asked.
“Is there dengue fever?”
“So Colombia is a pretty healthy place then, no?”
“We control the illness,” she spoke with militaristic certainty.
The nurse practitioner had a face of iron and spoke as though she was about to do combat on the front lines of disease prevention. It was apparent that it was her job to vaccinate the people of central Cartagena, and my family and I had to sit around the health department for over an hour waiting for her to arrive. Apparently, she is the vaccination expert here, and she took her job very seriously.
As I sat in a little office inside the health department I found her cold demeanor unnerving, a feeling that was complemented by the fact that the room looked like more of a storage space than a place to receive medical care. But there was more than enough evidence that we were at ground zero for vaccinations in Cartagena: a large freezer full of vaccines filled up a fifth of the floor space and pro-vaccine propaganda posters covered the walls. Observing this, I found that I could look past all the boxes, junk, and clutter that laid about everywhere. Over a messy desk, the vaccination general finished filling out my yellow fever confirmation booklet and passed it over the desk to me before getting started on my wife’s.
I deemed it to be a good idea to get yellow fever vaccines for my family in Cartagena, as international travel can become arduous without having proof of this vaccine. Once having stepped foot in a country where yellow fever is officially said to exist it can be difficult traveling to other countries which have immigration requirements demanding that you’ve received a vaccination.
Go to Yellow Fever Vaccine for International Travel for more on these requirements.
Our path of travel at this point was not looking so certain — suggestions were being put up to go to Central America via Panama or El Salvador, to move slowly south to Ecuador, jumping over to Puerto Rico, or returning to Mexico. Some of the countries whose names came up in my family’s logistical meetings technically have entry requirements which include being able to show proof of having any updated yellow fever vaccination. I neither wanted to be stopped at a border or denied boarding an airplane for being unprepared — so we sought out yellow fever vaccines in Cartagena.
It turned out to be an extremely easy task to complete.
I got the address for the local health department, went there, told them what we wanted, and they told us to return the next day for the morning vaccination clinic, which operates four days a week.
“Bring your passports if you want the yellow book,” the receptionist told us.
“How much is this going to cost?”
Vaccinations are often movements of public health. Where the intent of a society is to eradicate or limit disease through this method every individual needs to be vaccinated — and this includes foreign travelers and residents. Myself and my family would receive vaccinations in Colombia for free which would have cost $80 to $200 in our home country.
We take it.
Though we have been very selective in what vaccinations we give to our daughter — even having refused most of the standard vaccinations that are administered in the USA — yellow fever is a vaccination that I wanted my daughter to have. All travelers should be vaccinated against this disease — they are a bureaucratic liability otherwise.
In travel, as in every other aspect of life, you take the parameters you are given and then find the best way through the maze from point A to point B. The path of least resistance when traveling in South America or Africa is just to get vaccinated for yellow fever (and this has little to do with health).
Go to Yellow Fever Vaccine for International Travel for more about why travelers should be vaccinated against yellow fever.
In due time, the vaccination general passed over three completely filled in, stamped, and signed yellow fever vaccination booklets over to me. These serve as official international proof that you have been vaccinated. This was all we needed, as I have next to no fear of actually acquiring yellow fever.
We have the loot, lets scram.
I flashed a look out the half open door, I looked at my wife. She was also flashing looks between the door and me, obviously thinking the same thing. I didn’t really want to have my daughter pumped full of some miscellaneous chemicals in obedience to the immigration policies of myriad governments. The nurse must have smelt out our plot before it could be enacted, as she grunted towards my wife, and almost before she had finished stepping in her direction had a needle plunged into her deltoid.
I was next, and as soon I got within vaccinating range of the nurse she was at my skin with the needle. But she hesitated, looked at me funny, then asked where I wanted the shot to go. My tattooing perplexed her. She did not seem to know if it was alright to plunge a needle into tattooed flesh. I pointed out a sparse area of naked skin peaking out between a wash of color. She stabbed it.
Petra was next, and, almost before she could gauge what was going on, the needle was plunged into her little arm. She contracted her body, scrunched her face, but she neither offered a whimper nor a tear.
The nurse then smiled, her mission completed.
For the next decade my family is cleared for travel through the yellow fever regions of the world.
Where to get a yellow fever vaccination in Cartagena?
DEPARTAMENTO ADMINISTRATIVO DISTRITAL DE SALUD – DADIS (Department of Health)
Centro Getsemaní Carrera 10B No 25 -10 Calle Larga Casa Fátima 2 Piso Teléfonos: 6501096 – 6501092
If coming from Calle Media la Luna, the vaccination clinic is on the right hand side of Carrera 10B just beyond the church and before you get to the corner of Calle Larga Fatima. The door is unmarked, though is unlocked and you can walk right in. You will know if you are in the right place at first glance — it looks like a health clinic.
Vaccination clinics are held in the morning, Monday – Thursday.
Department of health, Cartagena