Why are Vaccines so Important?
The United States has used vaccines as a powerful weapon to eradicate many serious diseases, such as tuberculosis and measles. However, the same can’t be said of many countries across the world, which is why it is vital to ensure your vaccines are up to date prior to traveling. This includes routine vaccines, and depending upon where you’re headed, you may benefit from some additional travel vaccines that aren’t necessarily needed on US soil. The vaccination process can be confusing, but it is one of the most important ways to protect yourself and your health while abroad. Here is a quick rundown of everything \ you need to know regarding travel vaccines.
Different Types of Vaccines
Those that are recommended for everyone in the United States based on age, health conditions, and other risk factors.
Those that the CDC recommends travelers get to protect their health, even though they aren’t required for entry by the government of the country you are visiting. These are not part of the routine vaccination schedule. Recommended vaccines, such as Typhoid, protect travelers from illnesses that are usually travel-related.
Ones that travelers are required to have in order to enter a country, based on that country’s government regulations.
Which Vaccines Will I Need?
1. Routine Vaccines
Routine vaccines, which are those recommended for everyone in the United States, need to be up to date! Depending on where you travel, you may come into contact with diseases that have become rare in the United States due to good vaccine coverage. For example, measles outbreaks are extremely rare in the United states, but occur frequently in many popular destinations in Europe and beyond. Routine vaccinations depend on your age, health, and vaccine history, so it is important to bring all of your vaccine records to your doctor prior to travel. For adults who received all of their childhood vaccines, usually only an annual flu shot and a tetanus booster every 10 years is needed.
It is important to note that immunity to certain vaccine-preventable diseases can wear off over time. I recommend having your titers (blood tests that show immune status) drawn at least every couple of years to ensure your immunity to certain diseases. Routine vaccines that you should be aware of prior to travel include:
Used to prevent HAV infection. Titers can be checked to determine immunity.
Used to prevent HBV infection. Titers can be checked to determine immunity.
A childhood vaccine that is used to prevent Measles, Mumps and Rubella. Titers can be checked to determine immunity.
Used to prevent chickenpox. Immunity can be acquired through a previous infection or from this childhood vaccine. Titers can be checked to determine immunity.
This toxoid vaccine is used to prevent tetanus and is given during childhood over a series of doses. Booster doses are needed every 10 years.
A tetanus booster that contains the pertussis (whooping cough) vaccine. Individuals need one dose as a child and a second dose one time during adulthood, in place of the 10 year tetanus booster.
Administered annually to prevent infection from the influenza virus.
Used to prevent infection from the COVID-19 virus.
2. Travel Vaccines
You may need additional vaccines before you travel depending upon your destination, your medical history, your planned activities, and other health concerns. Discuss your itinerary with your health care provider to make sure you get all necessary destination-specific vaccines.
Recommended for people aged 9 months or older and who are traveling to or living in areas at risk for yellow fever virus.
Recommended if you will be in areas where food and water precautions are recommended. Comes in an oral and an injectable form.
May be needed if you will be in unprotected rural outdoor areas where rabies is common and/or you may be exposed to wild animals.
Should be considered if you will be on a lengthy trip or you plan to live in areas of risk, including rural farming areas.
Needed if traveling to a country with a high prevalence of malaria.
Recommended if traveling to sub-Saharan Africa during the dry season (December to June).
Frequently Asked Questions
Where can i get travel vaccines?
It depends on which vaccines you need. The first step is to check the CDC’s Travelers Health website to determine the country specific vaccine requirements. Next, contact your family doctor to see if they have the vaccines in stock. If not, you will need to search for a travel medicine clinic and schedule an appointment. Keep in mind that many travel medicine clinics do not accept insurance, and vaccines can run a couple hundred dollars each. With this being the case, it is almost always more affordable to go through your family doctor if possible.
If the Yellow Fever vaccine is required, you’ll need to go to a vaccine center authorized to give Yellow Fever vaccinations (usually only offered through travel medicine clinics). Remember, many travel medicine clinics do not accept insurance, and the out-of-pocket cost is around $250. Luckily, the vaccine is good for life as long as you keep your ‘yellow card’, which will be provided to you at your vacine appointment.
HOW FAR AHEAD SHOULD I GET ANY NEEDED TRAVEL VACCINES?
According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), it’s best to schedule a visit to your doctor or travel medicine clinic 4 to 6 weeks before an international trip. Since your body needs time to build up immunity after receiving a vaccine and many vaccines are given in a series over time, getting an early start on your immunizations is the best way to protect yourself. Even if you are making a last-minute trip or plan to leave in less than four weeks, you should still check with your doctor to see if any vaccines or preventive medications might be recommended.
HOW LONG DOES IMMUNITY FROM VACCINES LAST?
It depends on the vaccine. If you’re traveling outside the United States, you should see a health care provider who is familiar with travel medicine to talk about your upcoming trip. He or she will be able to provide you with advice for any vaccines and vaccine boosters based upon where you are going and when you received your previous vaccinations.
Vaccines are a vital component in preventing the spread of diseases, and one of the most powerful ways to prevent travel-related diseases. We hope you enjoyed our complete guide on travel vaccines! For more travel health information from our Nurse Practitioner Kennie, check out our Tips & Tricks page.