With all the attention focused on vaccines created to prevent COVID-19, it’s easy to forget that traveling abroad often means getting a shot. Immunization requirements vary from country to country. While a few countries may require vaccine passports proving travelers are protected from the novel coronavirus, many more need proof that visitors are immunized against everything from polio and measles to yellow fever and rabies.
One thing is certain. Getting your essential travel vaccinations cannot be put off until the last minute. You may be able to get an emergency passport, but shots take time to work. Your body has to develop immunity, and some vaccines have side effects that you’ll need to recover from before getting on a plane. Plan on getting shots at least four to six weeks before departure. If you’re traveling to a developing country, you may need vaccines that are not only unavailable at your doctor’s office but unavailable within 100 miles from your home!
If your “shot” schedule involves tequila shots beside the pool at a five-star resort, then you probably won’t have to worry about getting unusual shots before you leave. Vaccination requirements in places like the United States, the European Union, and the United Kingdom are pretty straightforward. You’ll need to be vaccinated against the measles, polio, and diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis (DTaP). You may also need shots for hepatitis A, hepatitis B, and influenza, depending on where you’re going.
Some generally developed countries have less-developed areas. That means your vaccination needs depend on the locale you’ll be visiting. For example, some parts of Israel, including the West Bank and Gaza, are home to rabid dogs. Unlike many developing countries, there are treatments available, but if you expect to be around wildlife, you might consider a rabies vaccine. It’s a three-shot regimen, administered over the course of several weeks. And no, your family’s veterinarian probably doesn’t have it.
Many adults are not up to date on their vaccinations. Check with your doctor and schedule the shots you need. No matter what type of vaccine you need, keep in mind that if you need several different ones you may have to space them out. Being spontaneous is an awesome quality, but when it comes to essential travel vaccinations, you really need to plan.
When a disease is rare or completely eradicated, countries rarely stock vaccines to prevent transmission. In the U.S., for example, yellow fever is rare. However, in Africa, some 180,000 people get it every year. Although most cases are mild, it can be deadly. Unfortunately, the vaccine is extremely hard to obtain. Don’t plan on visiting your regular healthcare provider to get vaccinated against yellow fever or Japanese encephalitis. Travel vaccination clinics offer a one-stop option. However, they tend to be located in urban areas. If you live in a less-populated region, you may have to look around. A good rule of thumb–when you are planning a trip to a more exotic locale, plan on spending six weeks before your departure getting immunized.
Lastly, if you are already concerned about visiting a particular country, there’s no shame in making a decision based on vaccine requirements. Even with the necessary immunizations, chances are the country you’re considering has a host of other diseases for which vaccines have not been developed. For example, while there are preventive treatments for malaria, there is currently no vaccine available. After COVID-related shutdowns, many of us have a major travel itch. Still, exploring unfamiliar sites close to home may be the best solution if you’re not keen on vaccinations against exotic diseases.
Written by John Bankston
John Bankston is a published author of over 150 nonfiction books for children and young adults including biographies of Jonas Salk, Gerhard Domak, and Frederick Banting.