Your passport is ready, and your bags are packed for your overseas vacation. But there’s one thing you may have overlooked: travel vaccinations.
Traveling abroad can be an exciting experience, but it can also expose you to diseases you wouldn’t normally encounter at home. That means that aside from putting a damper on your vacation, you could wind up with a serious health issue. Getting vaccinated before travel reduces your risk of infectious diseases and lets you concentrate on the important stuff, like having a great time. Here’s what you need to know about prepping before you go.
How to get your travel vaccinations
The first thing you’ll want to do is schedule a visit with your healthcare provider. You’ll need to share where you’re traveling to (and even the season you’re traveling in), the type of activities you’ll be doing, the accommodation you’re staying in, your age, medical history, whether you’re pregnant or trying to get pregnant, and what vaccines you’ve had in the past. All these factors play a role in determining what vaccines you should get before heading out. Even if you’ve been vaccinated for certain diseases in the past, you may require a booster.
It’s best to schedule this visit at least six weeks before travel. Some vaccines need time to allow your body to develop immunity, while others require several doses spread out over weeks.
Your physician may be able to administer the vaccines right at the office. However, it’s more likely that you’ll be referred to a travel clinic. Save yourself an unnecessary trip by calling ahead to make sure the vaccines you need are available.
While you’re at the doctor’s office, it’s also a good idea to get a copy of any prescriptions (complete with dosage and directions) you take regularly; you’ll want this in case you get questioned about your medication, or if you need to fill the prescription somewhere else.
You might want to ask for some “just in case” medicine, too. For example, having antibiotics as well as OTC Imodium (loperamide) on hand comes in handy if the cleverly named travelers’ diarrhea strikes. Depending on where you’re going, drugstore items like hand sanitizer and tampons might be difficult to come by, so it’s a good idea to stock up.
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Are travel vaccinations necessary?
So what are the most common vaccines you might get before travel? They’re split into three types of vaccines: routine, recommended, and required.
Routine vaccines are the ones generally recommended in the U.S. You likely received many of these as a child, but some require immunization as an adult.
If you’re traveling somewhere with a high risk of a vaccine-preventable disease, it’s recommended you get the vaccine. And certain countries require vaccines, usually against yellow fever.
What vaccinations do I need for travel?
Here are the five most common vaccines recommended (or required) for travel abroad:
- COVID-19: The CDC recommends against international travel without being fully vaccinated for COVID-19. Even after vaccination, you should wear a mask while in transit and take precautions like frequent handwashing. Some countries require a negative COVID-19 test or proof of vaccination for entry—make sure to check the travel restrictions at your destination. All travelers coming to the U.S. are required to present a negative COVID-19 test three to five days before your return flight. It’s recommended to have a viral test three to five days after your return to the U.S., and to self-monitor for symptoms.
- Yellow fever: Yf-Vax is one of the most common. Yellow fever is transmitted via mosquitoes in parts of Africa, the Caribbean, and Central and South America. Depending on where you’re going, you may be required to show proof that you’ve received a yellow fever vaccination before being allowed to enter; your doctor can provide you with a certificate.
- Measles: According to the CDC, most measles cases in the U.S. originate from international travel, largely in parts of Asia, the Middle East, and Africa, although in the past several years, outbreaks are occurring in much of the world. While most people born after 1957 in the U.S. are immunized against measles, it’s common for people to have missed one of the two required doses that provide full immunity. Be sure to check your immunization status with your primary care provider so you can get up-to-date if need be.
- Hepatitis A: This is one of the most vaccine-preventable diseases people get during travel. The liver disease is spread through contaminated food or water, and is common in parts of Africa, Asia, India, Central and South America, and the Middle East. Ask your doctor about Havrix vs. Vaqta.
- Typhoid: Caused by bacteria found in contaminated food and water in developing countries, typhoid symptoms usually take 7-14 days to appear. There are two options for this vaccine: Typhim Vi, a one-dose inactive shot, or Vivotif, a four-dose live oral capsule. Both vaccines require a booster.
Check the CDC website section for travelers, and ask your doctor what other vaccines you might need for your destination.
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