Vaccines for Travelers

Written by Amy Boulanger | Published on November 6, 2014
Medically Reviewed by Jennifer Monti, MD, MPHrenda B. Spriggs, MD, MPH, MBA on November 6, 2014

Vaccines for Travelers

There are a lot of things you need to plan for when you travel. One of them is how travel will affect your health. Vaccines can help protect you from diseases that are rare in the United States but common abroad. They can also help keep you from bringing a new disease into an area. 

If you are traveling to a different part of the world, talk to your doctor. You may need one or more vaccinations. This is not just a safety precaution. Some countries will not let you enter if you haven’t had certain vaccines. 

When you talk to your doctor, it’s important to share all your destinations. The vaccination requirements for different countries vary. It’s best to start planning early. In general, you will want to be vaccinated at least four to six weeks before your travel date. Most vaccines need time to take effect. Some may require multiple visits to give the proper dosage.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention maintains a list of health information for international travel.

Routine Vaccinations

Make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date before you travel abroad. The diseases that routine vaccines protect against may be more common outside the United States. Routine vaccines include those that protect against:

  • diphtheria
  • tetanus
  • pertussis
  • measles
  • mumps
  • rubella
  • varicella (chickenpox)
  • polio
  • hepatitis A
  • hepatitis B
  • Haemophilus influenzae type b (Hib)
  • rotavirus
  • pneumococcal infection
  • meningococcal infection

Required Vaccinations

The yellow fever vaccine is required for you to cross certain international borders. You need it for travel to and from certain parts of Africa and Central or South America.  The meningococcal vaccine is required for travel to Saudi Arabia during the Hajj. The Hajj is the largest pilgrimage in the world. 

Ask your doctor for proof of vaccination before traveling to these areas.

Recommended Vaccinations

Recommended vaccinations depend on several factors, including:

  • destination
  • age
  • medical history
  • current health

Some vaccines that might be recommended for travelers include those for:

  • Japanese encephalitis
  • meningococcal disease
  • typhoid
  • yellow fever
  • tuberculosis (BCG vaccine)

The specific vaccines you need will depend on your destinations. In addition to vaccinations, you should also consider malaria risk. You may need to take antimalarial drugs if you are traveling someplace where malaria is common.

Before You Travel

International travel can be hard on your health. Therefore it’s important to prepare. Before you travel, you should do the following:

  • Schedule a doctor’s visit to check your health and discuss vaccinations.
  • Research your destination to understand health risks and vaccination needs.
  • Determine whether you have any health concerns that should keep you from traveling.
  • Learn what vaccines are necessary for any children you are traveling with.

Not all travel vaccines are known to be safe for pregnant women. If you are pregnant, discuss vaccination risks with your doctor. Then you can make an informed decision about how to proceed. 

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