Senior Nurse, National Travel Health Network and Centre
With changing disease patterns, emerging diseases, drug resistance, and an online world that allows dissemination of misinformation, preparing for healthy international travel may be challenging.
Vaccinations can protect against infectious disease
Vaccines are generally well-tolerated, safe, and an effective way to prevent infectious disease. Administered as a single dose or a course of several doses, sometimes with booster doses, immunity can last many years, depending on the vaccine given.
The benefits of vaccination extend beyond the person vaccinated to the wider community. For some vaccine-preventable diseases, vaccinating the majority ensures that those who cannot be vaccinated, but who may be very vulnerable to infection (e.g. the very young and those with a poorly functioning immune system), are protected through herd immunity.
Travel vaccinations are vital in a connected world
While vaccines prevent few travel-related infections, the recent fatal cases of rabies and yellow fever in unvaccinated European travellers, together with the regularly reported cases of measles and typhoid imported from abroad, highlight the crucial role that vaccines have.
Current best practice requires clinicians to balance the need for vaccination against the realistic risk of infection; considering many factors, including traveller perception of risk and concerns about potential side effects of vaccines.
Vaccination provides – often long-lasting – protection against certain infectious diseases, and for travel, it is never too late to visit a health professional for advice.
Book a travel-health appointment six weeks before
The pre-travel health appointment will help determine (among other things) the vaccinations needed, as a requirement of entry into a country (e.g. yellow fever vaccine for certain countries in Africa and Latin America, or meningitis ACWY vaccine for Hajj pilgrims), recommended to counter common infections at the destination (e.g. hepatitis A or typhoid vaccinations), or recommended based on planned activities (e.g. tick-borne encephalitis vaccine if hiking in parts of Europe).
The pre-travel health appointment is also an opportunity to ensure that you are up-to-date with your routine vaccines such as MMR; increasingly important given the UK’s elimination status.
Arrange your pre-travel appointment at least four to six weeks before travel (earlier if you have health problems). This allows time for completion of vaccine courses, monitoring for adverse reactions, and time to mount an adequate immune response to vaccines given. For example, a full rabies course is usually given over four weeks, and it can take ten days for yellow fever vaccine to be effective (and for the accompanying certificate to be valid). However, an appointment is still worthwhile if you have limited time.
Although vaccination provides good protection against certain infections, you should always take additional precautions when travelling such as scrupulous food and water hygiene and insect bite precautions. Regardless of your destination, ensure you have adequate travel health insurance.
Vaccination provides – often long-lasting – protection against certain infectious diseases, and for travel, it is never too late to visit a health professional for advice. Few travel-related health hazards are vaccine-preventable, so if you are planning to travel, carefully research your destination health risks and take appropriate preventive measures.Click here to find out more about travel vaccines, and where you can go to get yours before going abroad.