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Vaccines: Which ones do you need for travel?

September 9, 2021

Even if you have already done some “homework” to learn about vaccines for travel — including checking country requirements, asking your primary health care provider and reviewing the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) destination pages, you may still be asking: “Which vaccines do I really need for my trip?”

Understanding which vaccines you need for your upcoming travel is an important first step to becoming a Well-Prepared Traveler. The specialists at Traveler’s Medical Service help you understand which vaccines make sense based on the details of your trip and your medical and vaccination history.  During a pre-travel consultation with us, we will take the time to review, plan and discuss the vaccines that are right for you, and then we can administer any vaccines that you decide to get.  We take the guesswork out of something that can seem complicated and make recommendations tailored for each traveler.

Very few travelers end up getting all the vaccines they think they might need, so make sure to get expert advice before rolling up your sleeve!

Clinician experience and reliability matter. Some clinicians may not have the expertise or take the time to help you make the best vaccine decisions. Others may try to “up sell” more vaccines or products than you actually need. The clinicians at Traveler’s Medical Service focus on evidence-based information and informed decision-making to help ensure you receive the vaccines that are appropriate for you.

To learn more about the vaccines that might be important for you at home and abroad, please read on:

It’s helpful to sort vaccines into 3 categories: Required, Routine and Recommended.

Yellow fever is the only vaccine that is officially required by some countries in the yellow fever risk regions of sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. It is also required by some countries after travel to yellow fever risk countries. The sequencing of your itinerary can impact yellow fever requirements. It’s very helpful to check the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) destination pages at www.cdc.gov/travel to find out whether yellow fever vaccination is required for your trip. Also check the visa and entry requirements posted on each country’s website. But don’t worry, Traveler’s Medical Service has all of the current information on yellow fever vaccine requirements to assess during your pre-travel consultation at Traveler’s Medical Service.

Traveler’s Medical Service of NY and DC are Certified Yellow Fever Vaccination Centers. This means we can provide the necessary  validation and documentation of yellow fever vaccine on the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis, otherwise known as the “yellow card.”

Next, consider routine vaccines. All adults and children should be up to date with routine vaccines based on their age and health history. Routine vaccination recommendations vary by age and include protection against diseases that can be a risk in daily life. Some countries have outbreaks of these common diseases due to lower levels of sanitation and/or low vaccination rates, so being up to date with routine vaccines is also important for travel. Routine vaccines include but are not limited to:

  • Chickenpox (varicella)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Influenza (flu)
  • Measles/Mumps/Rubella (MMR)
  • Meningitis*
  • Polio
  • Pneumonia
  • Shingles
  • Tetanus/Diphtheria/Pertussis (Tdap)

It’s helpful to take your vaccination history information to your appointment at Traveler’s Medical Service so we can review it and make appropriate recommendations on any necessary updates. Don’t worry if you have lost track of your vaccine history. We can get an idea of which vaccines you may or may not have had based on your age, school history and where you grew up, and in some cases blood tests are available.

Recommended vaccines for travel are where the real confusion can start! This is when the experts at Traveler’s Medical Service can help you understand which vaccines are appropriate for you. We’ll start by learning the details of your trip including which countries you will visit, for how long, and the types of activities you plan to be doing. For example, is your trip taking you to rural areas off the beaten track? Will your accommodations be luxurious or more modest? How long is the trip and during which season?

During this discussion, we will also learn more about you. Are you a risk-taker, or more cautious? Will you be able to follow preventive measures such as being careful about food and water, and using insect repellents? Information like this helps us tailor vaccine recommendations to your estimated level of risk. Some of the recommended vaccines for travel include:

  • Yellow Fever Vaccine – Yellow Fever is a virus transmitted by infected mosquitoes. It is a risk in parts of South America and Africa. Yellow Fever vaccine may be required for some travelers and it also may be recommended if there is a risk to you of yellow fever exposure on your particular itinerary.
  • Typhoid Vaccine – Typhoid is caused by bacteria in contaminated food or drinks. It’s most prevalent in parts of Asia/South East Asia, Africa, and Central and South America. The vaccine is recommended for most travelers.
  • Rabies Vaccine – Travelers going on long-term trips, adventure travel, or to rural destinations with risk of animal contact (especially with stray dogs/cats and bats) may want to consider this 3-dose series in advance of travel.
  • Japanese Encephalitis (JE) Vaccine – JE is transmitted by mosquitoes. There is risk for JE in parts of Asia and South East Asia and the risk is higher for people who spend time in rural areas and stay in accommodations that lack air conditioning, screens, or bed nets.
  • Cholera Vaccine – Cholera is spread through contaminated food or water in regions of some countries experiencing problems due to natural disasters, drought, and lack of sanitation and public health services. While most tourist travelers are at very low risk, the vaccine may be important for some.
  • Meningitis Vaccine – This routine vaccine can also be recommended for some itineraries, especially when travelers may be in crowded conditions during risk seasons in parts of sub-Saharan Africa. *It is also required for all travelers going to Saudi Arabia to take part in the Hajj or Umrah.
  • Polio Vaccine – Polio may soon join the ranks of smallpox and be eradicated. Until then, this routine vaccine may need boosting for travel or extended stays in the few countries where cases still occur.
  • COVID-19 Vaccine –the COVID-19 vaccine is recommended for domestic and international travel to curb the spread of the virus and emerging variants. The vaccine is not yet required for international travel; however, some countries, cities, and employers are beginning to require it. Make sure to travel with proof of your vaccination and keep a paper copy as a backup to digital records.

Making sure you are appropriately vaccinated is one very important step to being a Well-Prepared Traveler. Check back for updates to the Well-Prepared Traveler Series, including more tips to staying well during your world travel. We welcome you to contact us to schedule pre-travel consultations and vaccinations, and visit Traveler’s Medical Service at https://www.travelersmedical.com for additional information.