Most people, at least in the U.S. and other Westernized countries, get their vaccinations on a standard schedule throughout their childhood and teen years. After that, however, most of us tend to forget about vaccinations. We figure we did all that already.
Not so fast there, traveler.
Did you know there is a recommended immunization schedule for adults? The medical community adapts vaccines all the time, but new diseases develop all the time too. Some diseases are eradicated in certain areas only to pop up as outbreaks in others.
The flu vaccine, for example, is regularly updated to account for the changes in flu strains. Recent outbreaks of measles among traveling children caused the CDC to recommend those traveling with infants to certain regions in Europe, Asia, the Pacific and Africa get their measles vaccine sooner than the standard childhood vaccination schedule recommends.
Here’s what travelers need to know about vaccines and travel – a checklist:
- Are you pregnant or breastfeeding?
- Are you traveling with infants and children?
- Is the health of any traveler immunocompromised due to illness or diabetes?
- Have you verified which vaccines you need for a particular destination?
1. Pregnant or breastfeeding travelers
Pregnant travelers should determine whether their destination will expose them to certain health risks like the flu, tuberculosis, or malaria.
- If exposure to the flu is likely, the recommended flu vaccine can be taken.
- If tuberculosis is likely, the pregnant traveler should receive skin testing before and after her travel to determine if she is likely to develop it.
- If malaria is likely, the CDC recommends that pregnant travelers avoid that destination.
In addition, the CDC recommends that women defer pregnancy until at least 28 days after receiving a live vaccine. See the CDC recommendations specific to pregnant travelers, including the immunizations for pregnant travelers.
Travelers who are breastfeeding should be primarily concerned with the food and water they consume. See the CDC recommendations for travel and breastfeeding for more details.
2. Traveling with infants or children
Many health issues that apply to adults are more critical to infants and children, but the most commonly reported health issues among traveling children are:
- diarrheal illnesses
- dermatologic conditions
- systemic febrile illnesses, such as malaria
- respiratory disorders
As with adults, prevention is the best medicine. Ensure that your child has the appropriate vaccinations and be aware of the potential need for medical care while traveling.
- Be sure the water young children are drinking – even that mixed into their formula – is clean. In some countries, even bottled water isn’t entirely clean. See these safe drinking water tips for travelers.
- Similarly, take the same precautions with food and dairy products consumed by children. Have safe snacks on hand for situations where the available items are questionable.
- Scrupulous hand washing is essential. When soap and water is not available, alcohol-based cleaners can be effective, but they won’t remove organic material.
See the CDC recommendations for international travel with infants and children and know how to find medical care on the road and in a hurry.
3. Travelers with suppressed immune systems
People with immune suppression due to a medical treatment, a condition, or a drug should address their pre-travel preparation with these things in mind:
- Is their underlying medical condition stable? A discussion with their primary medical care provider may be necessary to discuss the proposed itinerary and precautions. Also, if the condition isn’t stable, it will qualify as a pre-existing condition under travel insurance rules.
- Is travel safe given their current medical treatment plan? Will the traveler’s condition worsen or be further compromised by travel? Depending on the destination, will the necessary vaccinations destabilize their treatment?
- Are there specific risks at the destination that could exacerbate the traveler’s medical condition? If so, are there preventative measures the traveler can implement to mitigate those risks?
Travelers with existing medical conditions should verify that they have enough medicines for their trip and watch out for counterfeit drugs if they do run short. See the CDC recommendations for immunocompromised travelers for complete details.
4. Verify your vaccinations now – the earlier the better
Ideally, you should review your vaccinations before you book your trip and schedule a doctor’s visit at least 4 to 6 weeks prior to your trip.
It pays to schedule a review of your vaccinations early because, in some cases, the vaccines are in short supply and may require a waiting period. In other cases, the vaccinations are delivered according to timed sequences that may stretch out for weeks.
Further, if you’ve lived in the U.S. all your life, you’ve probably never had the one vaccination required by International Health Regulations – the vaccine for yellow fever.
See the CDC destinations page and find the country (or countries) you plan to visit.
Important Steps for All Travelers
All travelers, of all ages and relative health, should follow these steps before heading out to foreign lands:
- Check with their doctor and get the appropriate vaccinations
- Follow careful preventative techniques like washing hands and verifying the water and food supply
- Have the appropriate level of travel insurance for their needs
See our Travel Insurance 101 for more details on choosing your travel insurance coverage.