The Most Painful Part of a Yellow Fever Vaccine is the Cost

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I impulse bought a flight to Kenya because it was a good deal. At the time, I didn’t think to factor in the yellow fever vaccine cost into the true cost of that trip — I was too busy dreaming of giraffes and lions. But no matter how much I budgeted, planned, and saved for the trip, there was one thing that didn’t have wiggle room in the price: the yellow fever shot.

Of course, at the time I didn’t know it would cost me hundreds of dollars. Ouch!

Where is Yellow Fever Found?

The yellow fever virus is only found in tropical zones of South America and Africa.

yellow fever map

Even in countries where yellow fever is found, you’ll want to talk to a medical professional to confirm if your specific plans will take you to risk areas: for example, there’s yellow fever in Peru, but not in the highland region of Machu Picchu.

Countries that Require the Yellow Fever Vaccine

Several countries require proof of a yellow fever vaccination certificate in order to enter the country, but it won’t always apply to all travelers. If a country requires the yellow fever vaccine, passport control and immigration will check, so you can’t cheat the system.

You’ll need to know what category your destination falls into:

  • Countries that require all travelers to have the vaccine in order to enter
  • Countries that only require the vaccine if you’re arriving from another yellow fever zone
  • Countries that don’t require the vaccine to enter, but you should get it for your own protection
  • Countries that have zero yellow fever risk

Since the list does change from time to time, I recommend checking the World Health Organization database of yellow fever vaccine requirements and confirming directly with the country you intend to visit for entry requirements.

The category that trips travelers up most often is the second: countries that require the vaccine if you’re arriving from a yellow fever zone. For example, Costa Rica does not have yellow fever risk so you wouldn’t expect to need the shot, but it’s still required if you’re arriving from somewhere else that has yellow fever. Essentially, the country is trying to keep the disease from coming to their country and starting an epidemic. Always check entry requirements and don’t make any assumptions.

It takes 10 days for the vaccine to become effective, so be sure to make an appointment well in advance of your trip. Once you get it, it lasts for ten years or more.

Where to Get the Yellow Fever Vaccine

Your general physician won’t carry the yellow fever shot — you have to have it administered in a specialty travel vaccine clinic. In fact, not all clinics carry it either so you’ll need to visit specific yellow fever vaccine locations. You can search for travel medicine clinics with yellow fever vaccines on the CDC website.

Yellow Fever Vaccine Shortage

For more than a year now, there has been a manufacturing shortage of the vaccine, making it even more challenging (and expensive) to get immunized. The entire supply of American-made YF-Vax was depleted and only the European-made Stamaril is available.

Stamaril is equally effective, but hard to find in the USA. For example, there’s only one clinic in the entire state of New Mexico and if you live in Oregon, you’ll have to travel to Portland (or a neighboring state).

If you live in a rural area, be prepared to travel to get the vaccine since you might only find it in major metropolitan areas.  It’s a good excuse for a roadtrip, but that means you’ll need to plan ahead to have time for the appointment (and just getting to the clinic may come with its own travel expenses).

Search in advance and plan ahead!

So, what does the yellow fever vaccine cost?

My yellow fever vaccine cost an unbelievable $265 + a mandatory office visit fee of $90 for a grand total of $355. I knew it would be expensive in advance of my appointment, but it still felt outrageous to pay that much for a three-second jab!

Unlike other travel vaccinations like Hepatitis A or Tetanus boosters, you can’t really shop around for the best deal. In my case, there was only one place within a ~3 hour drive of home that would administer it.

I got my vaccine at Passport Health; so did my sister, although at a different location. Despite both travel clinics being operated under the same umbrella, hers was $70 cheaper. Bargain! If there are multiple options near you, it’s worth calling around to get price estimates, but you should expect on paying a minimum of $150 for the yellow fever vaccine. Most health insurance will not reimburse you, unfortunately (at least not in the United States).

If you want to get a FREE yellow fever vaccine, you can get one at the American Red Cross office in the Bogota airport. Reports are that it’s a very hygienic, professional operation and of course you can’t beat the price. (Just remember it takes 10 days for your body to build up immunity, so this is not a good option if you have a quick layover in Bogota on your way to a yellow fever zone).

If you know of other locations that offer free yellow fever vaccines, please share the information in the comments.

International Certificate of Vaccination

When you get the yellow fever vaccine — which in my (and my family’s) experience was faster, less painful, and fewer side effects than even a flu shot — you’ll get a yellow book that’s formally known as an “International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis”.

international certificate of vaccination

The date of your injection will be noted, signed, and stamped by a medical professional as proof that you received the yellow fever vaccine. Mine also shows the serial number of the individual immunization.

Do not lose this book; this is the only proof you’ll get of the vaccine and you’ll need to carry it with your passport if you’re traveling to a country that requires the vaccine. If you lose it, you’ll either need to get it reissued (at a fee) or re-take the shot. You may also keep track of other travel vaccinations in the same booklet, if you like.

Additional Travel Health Resources

I’m a fellow traveler, not a doctor, so my guide here is really to talk you through the yellow fever vaccine cost and logistics of finding a clinic.

Luckily, when you go to get your shot at a travel clinic, there will be a trained medical profession there to answer your other travel health questions and bring up anything you might have overlooked when planning your trip. You might need vaccines beyond just yellow fever or an anti-malarial prescription, for example. Ask any questions you have; you’re paying a consultation fee anyway!

Yellow fever zones often overlap with diseases like dengue fever, which does not have a vaccine, so take proper precautions for mosquito avoidance as needed. I personally use DEET repellents for my skin and permethrin spray for my clothing, but you can learn more about repellent options here.

If you need this or other travel vaccines, I strongly recommend starting your research and making appointments well in advance of your departure to ensure you have plenty of time to get the shots you need for 100% effectiveness.

Keep Reading on SightDOING

Overview of Travel Vaccine Costs

Pack Your Own Travel First Aid Kit

Getting Sick While Traveling S-U-C-K-S

4 thoughts on “The Most Painful Part of a Yellow Fever Vaccine is the Cost”

  1. Thanks for this, Becky. My question – we’re flying from the USA to South Africa via Accra, Ghana on South African Airways. We are on the ground in Accra for only one hour. Since Ghana is a yellow fever risk area, will we need a yellow fever shot to gain entry into South Africa?

    1. @Bob, You’d need to check with South Africa officials directly to confirm. My assumption is “no” since you’re not leaving the airport, but it would be pretty risky to assume it without formally checking.

  2. Thank you for your article, I’m having a hard time finding the Yellow Fever shot at the moment because all clinics near me are only focusing on COVID-19. You have helped me brace for what I’m sure now will be a ridiculous fee and and a two hour drive.

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