Please note: This information was current at the time of publication but now may be out of date. This handout provides a general overview and may not apply to everyone. For regularly updated information on a variety of health topics, please visit familydoctor.org, the AAFP patient education website.

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Am Fam Physician. 2004;70(1):103-104

What are travel vaccines?

Travel vaccines are shots you get before you travel to another country. In some countries, especially developing countries, certain diseases are common among the people. Sometimes you can get a disease by drinking water with tiny bugs in it or by getting bitten by a bug. To protect yourself from getting these diseases while you travel, you need to be vaccinated.

Some countries require that you provide proof when you enter the country that you have been vaccinated against certain diseases. Your doctor can give you the shots you need and the papers that provide proof, or can tell you where you need to go to get them.

When should I see my doctor?

You should see your doctor at least one to four months before you leave on your trip. This will give your doctor enough time to tell you how to stay healthy during your trip. It also should be enough time to get any shots or pills you might need. With your doctor’s help and travel vaccines and other medicines, you should have a safe and healthy trip.

Your doctor will evaluate your need for travel vaccines or medicines based on the following:

  • Plans for your trip, including possible stopovers

  • How long you will stay in each place

  • Where you will be staying (a hotel, friend’s house, etc.)

  • All planned activitiesYou should have this information with you when you see your doctor before your trip.

How do travel vaccines work?

Travel vaccines contain a weakened or killed form of the disease-causing germs (bacteria or virus). When put into your body, they help keep you from getting the disease when you are exposed to the live germs.

Sometimes there are no vaccines to keep you from getting certain diseases, such as malaria. There may be some medicines you can take to help keep you healthy. This is called preventive medication.

Are travel vaccines safe?

In most cases, there are no serious side effects from travel vaccines. Some vaccines may cause mild pain and swelling at the injection site. More severe reactions are rare.

  • Varicella (chickenpox)

  • Hepatitis A or hepatitis A immune globulin

  • Hepatitis B

  • Influenza (the flu)

  • Japanese encephalitis

  • Measles-mumps-rubella

  • Meningococcal meningitis

  • Pneumococcal

  • Polio

  • Rabies

  • Tetanus and diphtheria toxoids

  • Typhoid fever

  • Yellow fever

Where can I get more information?

Your doctor will review the plans for your trip and decide if you need any vaccines. The vaccines you got when you were a child also may need to be updated if you are not fully protected. Vaccines that may be needed to protect you include the following:

Your doctor

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (gives information on diseases that may affect travel and vaccines required by your travel destination)

World Health Organization (gives information on vaccine requirements and health advice)

American Society of Tropical Medicine and Hygiene (gives information on doctors who specialize in travel and tropical medicine)

International Society of Travel Medicine (gives information on travel clinics in your area)

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