Monday, August 15, 2011

French Healthcare Experience #4: Vaccines

Zachary is now 2 months old! So, hard to believe. In addition to the developmental milestones that this age brings - smiles, coos, a little more head control - this is also the age for his first set of shots. And so, with a little bit of hesitation, I brought him to the doctor (Owen came along too as Sean was at work) last week for his shots.

Now, the first thing to know about getting vaccines in France is that you have to bring the meds to the doctor's office yourself. So, before the day of the appointment, you must get a prescription for the vaccines and go pick them up at the pharmacy. Since pharmacy's may run out of their supplies, it is always recommended to go several days in advance. So, for the past week we have had the vaccines in our refrigerator - a reminder each time we would go get some food of the upcoming event.

The other thing to know is that drugs are significantly cheaper in France than in the US. On average, our co-pay is less than 1 euro for our drugs and the total cost of the drugs themselves have never been over 20 euros as far as I can remember. This is for drugs such as antibiotics, pain meds (the tylenol and advil equivalents for kids are by prescription only here), cough syrups, etc. So, we were a bit surprised to see that the cost of the vaccines was over 100 euros though it was completely covered by our insurance.

But, other than that, the appointment was very similar to those we had in the US. Since August is the month of vacations in France, our appointment for Zack's 2 month well-child check was with the substitute doctor and not our regular physician. In France, substitute doctor (medecin remplaçant) is a profession, like substitute teachers. At our last appointment with our PCP, she assured me that her replacement this time was wonderful so I wasn't too concerned when I got to the office. Of course, I'm always a little anxious about seeing a new professional because of the language issue. I'm always a bit insecure about whether I will understand let alone be understood. But, in general, this physician was fine. She answered my questions with patience and even made a little small talk as she was preparing the needles (Zack had 2 shots). And, much to my surprise, despite her coldish demeanor towards Owen (who, after waiting for an hour at this point wanting me to play with him and was interrupting my conversation with the doctor to ask me questions), she even patted Zachary on the back a few times after I picked him up following the shots and offered a few words of reassurance to him, "C'est tout. C'est fini. Ça va." (That's all. It's finished. You're ok.)

For those interested to know, the vaccines are mostly but not entirely the same regimen as in the US. For children at risk, they give a vaccine for tuberculous at birth along with Hepatitis B. I'm positive that Zack did not get tuberculosis because I remember having a conversation with the sage-femme about it but I can't remember whether he had Hep B. The vaccines that Zachary got at 2 months are known in France as Prevenar 13 (for pneumonococcus) and Infanrix hexa (covers diptheria, polio, tetanus, Hib, pertussis, and Hep B) which I think is primarily the same as in the US though I remember in the US that Owen was also rotavirus too. Another difference is that here, as I handed over my check and carte vitale (health insurance card) to the doctor for payment, she handed me back a prescription for the next round of shots - to be given in 1 month. This surprised me because in the US shots are normally given in 2 month intervals. But, as I am repeatedly reminded, we are NOT in the US anymore.


  1. thanks for sharing M! I don't have anything to compare my dubai vaccine experience with but the one thing Wee Scotch had that people in the states thought was odd was the BCG shot on his upper arm which didn't completely heal for 6 months and is still a visible scar.

  2. Yeah, Sandy. They do that here too in the hospital. It's for TB, I think. But they told us that Zack wasn't at high risk because of our country of origin so it was up to us if we wanted to do it. Then our doctor didn't say anything at the 2 month visit so I didn't bring it up. Is TB prevalent in Dubai?