Travel vaccinations

The flights are booked. You’ve found some accommodation. The travel itinerary is filling up. Maybe you’ve even sorted your travel insurance.

But have you researched whether you need any travel vaccinations, or visited your local travel health clinic to talk about immunisation?

When should I look into getting travel vaccinations?

As soon as possible! The NHS recommends visiting your GP or a private travel clinic at least eight weeks before travelling.

Depending on the country you’re visiting, you may need to book a series of injections beforehand. Some vaccinations need to be administered a certain number of days before you travel to ensure your immune system is ready.

For example, according to the WHO (World Health Organisation), the schedule for the rabies vaccinations differs, but it is usually administered in three separate visits in the space of 28 days.

Likewise, if you need the Japanese encephalitis vaccine, it will be given in three doses.

Can my doctor administer my travel vaccinations?

It depends on whether the clinic is registered to give out immunisations, and which vaccinations you need.

However, if you have any existing medical conditions or allergies, it is a good idea to speak to your doctor first. Similarly, younger and older travellers may be more vulnerable so seek out medical advice.

If you are pregnant, breastfeeding, or suffer from immune deficiencies, you will need to consult with your doctor before booking an appointment elsewhere.

Where should I go to get my travel vaccinations?

You may be able to see your doctor for the travel vaccinations you need, but they may not have everything readily available since vaccinations have expiry dates, so it is not cost-effective to store them.

Instead, many countries have specialist travel health clinics that offer comprehensive travel vaccination services. It is worth researching online to find a clinic near you.

What do I need to think about?

There are a few important things to consider when planning your itinerary:

  • The country you are coming from
  • The country (or countries) you are heading to
  • The specific areas you’ll visit (i.e. coast, mountains, cities, jungle, etc.)
  • How long you will be there
  • The modes of transport you’ll be using
  • The types of activities you’ll be doing
  • Whether you will encounter wild animals
  • The accommodation you’re likely to stay in
  • The type of weather / season
  • The food and drink you plan to eat

If you are backpacking in more rural areas and planning on eating local, trekking in the jungle and camping outdoors, you may be more susceptible to airborne or waterborne diseases than a holidaymaker who has booked a package deal in a four-star hotel.

Are travel vaccinations necessary?

Vaccinations can be categorised into three types according to WebMD:

  1. Routine – the standard vaccinations for children and adults in your country, usually including tetanus, diphtheria, MMR, influenza, rotavirus, polio, HPV, chicken pox, whooping cough, pneumococcal disease and hepatitis B.
  2. Recommended – additional vaccinations to reduce the risk of contracting diseases that are present in the country you are visiting, such as the rabies, cholera, malaria, tick-borne encephalitis, typhoid fever, hepatitis A/B, Japanese encephalitis, tuberculosis and top ups of tetanus and diphtheria.
  3. Required – in some places in South America and Africa, the yellow fever vaccination and certificate is needed to enter the country. In Saudi Arabia, you must have proof of meningococcal meningitis immunisation administered at least ten days before if you are visiting during Umrah or Hajj. Polio is also now being officially monitored by border controls after outbreaks in Papua New Guinea.

Even if you have had a vaccination before, you may need a booster shot if you are travelling in an area where that infectious disease is known to exist.

Do I have to get the travel vaccinations?

By having the travel vaccination, you are protecting yourself from some nasty infectious diseases that could be fatal if contracted.

Pre-immunisation helps your body to fight off the bacteria or virus before you travel, and will help bolster your immune system by creating antibodies to fend off future attacks.

Vaccinations have successfully eliminated diseases such as smallpox. Immunisation strategies were responsible for saving 10 million lives between 2010-2015 according to the WHO.

However, vaccines are only effective if the majority of us are immunised, in what is referred to as ‘herd immunity.’ When you travel, you must be responsible and ensure that you are fully updated with your vaccinations to reduce any risks of spreading infection.

How much do travel vaccinations cost?

In the UK, some travel vaccinations may be covered by the NHS. If your clinic administers immunisations, the following are free:

  • polio (given as a combined shot of diphtheria, polio and tetanus)
  • typhoid
  • hepatitis A
  • cholera

Before you go, check your GP is signed up to provide NHS travel vaccines. If some are not covered, you can research the costs at your local travel health clinics. Prices tend to vary, so do your homework in advance.

Remember, some additional fees may apply if there are multiple doses required, or if you need a dated certificate of vaccination. It is worth budgeting extra to cover these costs, and allowing enough time to fit in appointments.

It is worth noting that some travel insurance policies will not cover medical expenses if you have neglected to have your travel vaccinations.

What else do I need to prepare?

Prevention is a good way of staying safe and not bringing home more than you bargained for. If you’re visiting an area with a high risk of malaria, it is sensible to invest in some non-DEET insect repellent. If you’re trekking, wearing longer layers and buying a mosquito net is advisable.

Washing your hands before eating is another way of reducing the risk of getting ill, and carrying a small bottle of alcohol disinfectant is an easy way to minimise the germs entering your system. Practicing good hygiene is important for staying fit and healthy while you’re away.

In some places, travellers are advised to only drink from bottled water or avoid street food, particularly meat and dairy products, where the chances of food poisoning may be higher. Pack Immodium in your first aid kit, along with some electrolyte packs to stay hydrated. In case your diet has the opposite effect, pop some laxative pills in there too.

In areas where waterborne diseases may be present, eating soft fruits or salad leaves may result in illness. It is sometimes sensible to only eat fruit that can be peeled to reduce the risks of consuming bacteria that your stomach won’t agree with.

In any place you go, whether travelling or not, it is always sensible to practice safe sex. Protect yourself from unwanted STIs by using condoms every time.

Useful links

For more information on travel vaccinations, please visit the following websites that maintain updated travel advice:

Please note, the travel advice here does not replace the updated and specific knowledge of your doctor or travel health specialist. See them for detailed advice about travel vaccinations before you travel.

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