A yellow fever shot gave him a red light for trip to Argentina

Who knew that you can’t get a yellow fever shot if you have cancer? Not August Venezio and his travel companion, Norman Stern, whose Argentina tour was stopped cold by this unfortunate limitation.

I defer to the experts at the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) and to his travel companion’s doctor, who said Stern couldn’t safely get the shot, and therefore couldn’t take the Gate 1 tour.

I also say “unfortunate” because Venezio and Stern’s travel insurance carrier, Travelex, are also going to use this to deny their $6,098 claim. Three appeals later, the answer is unchanged: Gate 1 gets to keep all of their money.

The leukemia appears to be a pre-existing medical condition. The yellow fever vaccine conflict was also known. But there’s a little clause that gave our advocacy team hope: A doctor could waive the Yellow Fever requirement under some circumstances. Indeed, the shot isn’t required; it’s only recommended, according to the CDC.

Let’s go straight to the rejection letter:

After review of your claim, we have determined that we have no alternative but to maintain our original decision on your claim.

As communicated in our correspondence in review of the logged telephone call that you placed to the Gate 1 Reservation Agent, we acknowledge that the representative you spoke with did reference the company website statement that advises “Argentina- while no inoculations are required, vaccination against yellow fever is recommended, especially in the northeast and northwest parts of the country, including Iguazu Falls. Please consult your physician before traveling to Argentina.”

However, as advised your policy provides coverage for specific listed risks, one of which sickness, provided the sickness commences while the coverage is in effect, requires examination by a physician and in the written opinion of your physician, prevents you from traveling.

This is not an all risks policy and there is not a covered listed risk for inability to obtain the necessary or recommended vaccinations.

We can fully appreciate and understand your concerns and your need to cancel your travel plans due to Norman Stern not being able to receive the yellow fever Vaccination and in no way dispute your physician’s advice, however we must maintain that this is simply not a covered reason for cancellation.

According to the medical information from Dr. Villa, it was not a change in Norman’s longstanding medical condition preventing you from travel, but rather the physician advised you not travel because you could not obtain the vaccination that is recommended for travel to your particular destination.

As there was no new sickness or new covered event that occurred after the effective date of the protection plan causing you to cancel your travel plans, your reason for cancellation is not a covered benefit of the policy

We wish the outcome of our review could have been more favorable but trust that you understand our decision is based on the terms and conditions of the policy and the available information.

If this information is incomplete or inaccurate, please feel free to submit any additional information, and we will gladly reevaluate the claim. The Company fully reserves any and all rights and defenses available to it now and in the future, and does not waive any such rights or defenses, whether arising under the policy/certificate or otherwise.

Based on this rejection, it appears that Stern had leukemia but didn’t know about the yellow fever conflict when he booked his trip. His doctor told him he couldn’t go, and both he and Venezio canceled the trip. The travel insurance company said the cancellation wasn’t covered.

So what’s going on here?

Many travel insurance policies don’t cover existing medical conditions. (For more on this problem, see our frequently asked questions about travel insurance.) Although this was an existing medical condition, the doctor’s recommendation — not to travel — was not known until after he booked the trip.

Our team reviewed the denial letters and the particulars of Venezio’s case. Just in case we were overlooking a detail, we recommended he share this on our help forums. But we declined to get involved because we didn’t feel like we could persuade Travelex to see past the existing medical conditions clause and help this traveler.

Travel insurance isn’t always fair. If you have a medical condition of any kind, consider either a broader “cancel for any reason” policy or don’t go at all.

Christopher Elliott

Christopher Elliott is an author, journalist and consumer advocate. You can read more about him on his personal website or check out his adventures on his family adventure travel site. Contact him at chris@elliott.org.

  • Alan Gore

    Another rookie who forgot the travel insurance insurance.

  • AAGK

    It seems that Grand Circle didn’t deny him passage. His Dr recommended he not go. As that information was readily available prior to making an expensive booking, this is the rare case where insurance properly denied the claim. The particulars about the shots are irrelevant. The time to consult his physician was before he spent $7k.

  • MarkKelling

    Lesson learned: if you have any medical condition, find out what vaccinations might be required for a planned trip and consult your doctor to see if you can have them before you pay for the trip.

    In this case it is unfortunate the doctor told the OP not to travel because he could not have the yellow fever vaccine even though it is not mandatory.

  • jsn55

    I think that buying CFAR travel insurance is a small piece of the travel puzzle. If you’re not using an experienced travel agent, you have to carefully research everything before booking anything. Meticulous attention to detail is required before travelling out of the US and sometimes within the US as well.

  • 42NYC

    Spent a fair amount of time in Argentina including salta and iguazu falls (the only destinations I could imagine a gate 1 tour going). You don’t need a yellow fever shot, I get that the doctor and tour company is choosing to be overly cautious but in reality most people don’t get the vaccine for this 36 hour stay when you’re in a five star hotel and air conditioned bus the whole time.

    I’m not a doctor but I wouldn’t ditch this trip.

  • joycexyz

    I visit Argentina fairly frequently, and this is the first time I’ve heard of the recommendation for a yellow fever shot. And the word is “recommendation,” not “requirement.”

  • Mike H

    My bet would be that 80%+ of the people on the trip don’t get the yellow fever vaccine. And that nobody on the trip will actually contract yellow fever. Go, use bug spray. I agree with Gate 1 in this case.

  • Carchar

    I remember someone on TravelZine asking for advice about getting the yellow fever vaccine past the age of 65. It is not recommended, if this is your first ever shot. She was supposed to go to Iguassu Falls and the shot was recommended. I told her that I had just come back from Iguassu Falls on both the Argentina and Brazil sides. I could not get the shot because a severe shortage of the vaccine meant no one in my area had it to give. I went anyway, armed with plenty of repellent. I came back with almost all of it because there were no mosquitoes to be found. No one was bitten and no one even saw any. She didn’t get the shot and she did end up going without any ill effects.

  • John Baker

    Did Gate 1 deny him passage based on the lack of the vaccine? It doesn’t read like that and in that case, he could go but chose not to. That isn’t an insurance issue, its a personal choice issue..

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