Malaria Vaccine or Tablets – Which Is Best for Travel?


7 Dec 2023

Traveling to a malaria-prone region soon? You might be wondering:

“Should I take a malaria vaccine for my upcoming travels? Or do I only need preventative medication?”

These are two very different options – and there’s a clear answer for travelers. Let’s discuss:

Do I Need a Malaria Vaccine Before Traveling? Or Should I Only Take Malaria Pills?

Currently, there is no malaria vaccine available in the United States.  

When (or if) it becomes available, health experts do not plan to recommend it for travelers – only preventative antimalarial tablets.

  • Malaria vaccines would only be focused on residents in malaria-prone areas, such as parts of Africa, Asia and South America. 
  • While developments have made strong progress in recent years, widely available & effective malaria vaccines have not been fully administered yet (as of 2023). 
  • However, preventative malaria tablets are proven to be effective, especially for travelers that need a temporary boost in protection.

To avoid contracting malaria, many doctors urge travelers to go beyond normal preventative measures, since they aren’t reliable enough (such as lots of clothing and insect repellent) – but it’s a question of which medication.

What Malaria Tablets Do Doctors Recommend?

Obtaining the right malaria prescription is crucial for effective prevention and a pleasant trip, especially with varying side effects across each medication. 

Here’s a quick look at a few popular options:

1. Malarone (Most Preferred)

Proven highly effective (with relatively low side effects), many doctors recommend Malarone as the best option for travelers. The generic version of Malarone is atovaquone/proguanil, which is just as effective as Malarone but more affordable. 

That being said – prices can unexpectedly rise when obtained through standard travel clinics or primary care. 

However, price reductions via telehealth are now available, which many travelers are now opting for (more on that below).

Malarone Cost

2. Doxycycline

Another option for malaria prevention, Doxycycline comes with potential side effects such as sun sensitivity, disorientation, and nausea. This medication typically requires travelers to continue treatment for 30 days after they return home as well. 

Due to these drawbacks, many doctors hesitate to prescribe Doxycycline, especially for travelers.

3. Lariam (Mefloquine)

With less frequent dosing, Lariam is another option considered when other alternatives prove unsuitable. 

However, like Doxycycline, potential side effects should be carefully considered – and this medication may prove less effective in geographical areas with Mefloquine-resistant strains of malaria.

A few more points:

  • When determining the most suitable malaria tablets for your travel requirements, consultation with a licensed physician is crucial. 
  • Your doctor will weigh factors like your destination, travel plans, and health history to prescribe the most appropriate and safe option. 
  • While Malarone is often preferred for its effectiveness and lower side effect profile, your healthcare provider will tailor their recommendation to your individual circumstances. 

Remember, the choice of malaria tablets is a personalized decision prioritizing your well-being, ensuring a healthy and safe journey.

Best Way to Obtain a Prescription

There are 2 main options for travelers:

  1. Traditional travel clinics & primary care (most expensive)
  2. Online telehealth providers that ship & deliver prescriptions to you (most convenient)

Let’s cover each one below.

1. Traditional Clinics & Primary Care (Higher Costs)

Traditional clinics and primary care providers are conventional sources for obtaining malaria prevention medications. This involves:

  • In-Person Appointments: Scheduling appointments may result in long delays and costs that sometimes exceed $300.
  • Prescription Pickup: The standard approach requires waiting for prescriptions to become available, followed by the need to pick them up in person. However, issues such as stock shortages can lead to delays and inconvenience, especially during high-demand periods.
  • Higher Costs: The higher costs associated with traditional routes can impact your travel budget, adding stress to the process of obtaining essential medications.

2. Online Telehealth (More Affordable & Convenient)

In contrast, telehealth platforms like Runway Health offer online consultations and 3-5 day prescription delivery to your home – which provides a fast & easy way to obtain prescriptions, without the need for in-person visits (or pharmacy pickup).

You also get cheaper pricing (with the cost stated upfront, no “price hiding”).

  • Convenient Online Consultations: Telehealth options simplify the process, offering an alternative that prioritizes convenience and cost-effectiveness.
  • Transparent Pricing: Unlike most healthcare companies and clinics, knowing the price upfront helps you avoid “surprise costs” after going through a long consultation process.
  • Prescription Delivery: Prescriptions are delivered straight to your door, no need to rely on a local pharmacy that may run low on inventory (or none at all).

While traditional clinics provide a familiar approach, telehealth options simplify the process, with better convenience and cost-effectiveness. 

The choice between traditional and telehealth methods ultimately depends on your individual preference.

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Last Takeaway – Malaria Vaccines vs. Preventative Tablets

Remember – malaria vaccines are generally not recommended (unless you’re a permanent resident in a malaria-prone region), nor are they widely available yet, as of 2023.

Doctors will typically prescribe malaria tablets for travelers – with Malarone often the #1 choice for its high efficacy and relatively low side effects. 

However, it depends on your individual situation. A consultation with a licensed physician is needed for personalized recommendations based on destination, travel plans, and health history.

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