Do I need Travel Vaccines and which ones should I get?
Why do I need a travel vaccines? Will it hurt? Does it have side effects?
Presumably you are reading this because you want to know whether you need to be vaccinated for your upcoming travels or not? What are the risks if you choose not to be vaccinated?
Why do I need a travel vaccine?
When travelling you are likely to be exposed to diseases which you have not been exposed to, and which your family, friends and neighbors have not been exposed to. This means there is no natural immunity to it.
The types of disease could vary from Typhoid to Yellow Fever to Japanese Encephalitis. The risks of each will depend on where you are from, and where you are travelling to.
CDC recommends all travelers be up-to-date on routine vaccines, including measles-mumps-rubella (MMR), diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis, varicella (chickenpox), polio, and influenza. This is regardless of where you are travelling – apart from not wanting to catch anything whilst you are abroad, you would also feel terrible if it turned out you had helped to cause an infectious incident in the local population.
You should aim to get your vaccinations done 4-6 weeks before you travel so that they have time to start working. It should also give you time to get a top up dose, if required for most vaccines.
Will it hurt getting a travel vaccine?
Generally speaking a vaccination does not hurt. In a very small minority of cases you may get some itching or inflammation around the injection site, but the shot itself will not be any worse than a pin prick.
Do travel vaccines have side effects?
Live virus vaccines such as Yellow fever, varicella (chickenpox) and MMR (measles, mumps, and rubella) may cause a fever, headache, tiredness and muscle aches in up to 15% of people. This may not start for 3-10 days after vaccination, which can be confusing.
MMR may also cause a transient rash in 5% of people.
If you are worried about something after a vaccination it is best to talk to your doctor. Even if it is quite a few days after the shot. Don’t worry about looking silly, it is better to be safe than sorry.
Do Travel Vaccines work?
Flu vaccine can be measured in terms of efficacy at around 83% effective for children between 6 months and 7 years old. The same shot is only around 59% effective for adults between 18 and 65 (Osterho & Lanect ID 2012). This compares to the Measles vaccination which has been shown to be 97% effective. In other words it does depend on the vaccine itself, how effective it is. You can research this yourself, or ask your doctor.
What should I do next?
The first step is to work out which vaccines you should have based on your destination. Once you know what is required you should be able to tick it off against whatever vaccinations you have already had.
There are apps to track this, or your family Doctor may have a record. If you are like me and have moved around a lot and failed to keep records, you can get a blood test to see what resistance you have and whether you need a top up or a full vaccination.
We found a couple of useful tools which can help you to work out what travel vaccines you might need.
If you are not sure where to get vaccinated you should be able to find information from your local GP.
What if I didn’t get a shot?
Occasionally things go wrong, we get a dog bite, or have an accident and then realize that we ought to have a Tetanus shot or even a Rabies Jab.
When you get to the Doctor they will probably ask you if your shots are up to date. It’s definitely better to say you don’t know than to assume you will be OK. Of course if you have a mobile app or some other record showing that your shots are up to date that would be ideal!
As noted earlier the doctors can run a blood test to check your anti-body levels or in an emergency will probably just give you a top up shot.
If you have travel insurance there may be a requirement that certain shots are up to date. Some others won’t be expected and may be covered as part of your treatment. You can call your insurance emergency line if you are worried about this – most of them are 24 hours and should have an answer on hand.
How much does Travel Vaccine Cost?
A single dose might vary from US$45-85 but for more remote geographies you might expect to have a number of travel vaccines. The Travel Doctor website suggests that you budget US$200-400 for more remote destinations. Note that some vaccines require multiple shots over a period of time and could end up costing more than this
Should children get travel vaccines?
Ideally children should have all their standard vaccines before traveling. In addition you should speak to your doctor about where you are going, and which vaccines may be unsuitable.
Regardless of vaccinations it is wise to follow a regime with plenty of insect repellent, and hand sanitizer when travelling with children.
If you are pregnant please seek professional advice. The NHS website talks about the risks of live vaccines and also of Malaria in pregnancy, which may be a useful start point.
Don’t worry too much
I’ve been travelling around Asia for 20 years and for much of that was under vaccinated. Meaning that I had not had the appropriate top-ups on time.
I would strongly recommend knowing what vaccines you need. Take them 4-6 weeks before you travel. If you have run out of time or will be traveling for a long time – you may be able to get them on arrival.
If you have been lucky enough to secure work overseas – ask whether they will pay for your vaccines. Nothing beats getting them done for free.
If you enjoyed this article you may also enjoy our post on What to do in a Travel Emergency