Updated: Mar 7, 2022
Maybe your amazing trip is all booked and you’re counting down the days, or perhaps you’re still deciding on which exciting, exotic destination is the right place for you. Either way, it’s never too soon to think about travel vaccines, but how do you know if you need them, and should you bother?
Why are travel vaccines important?
There are many places in the world that have a risk of diseases not present in the UK. In countries where hygiene isn’t great, and health care is questionable, the risks are higher and so making sure you’ve reduced your risk as much as possible is vital for a safe, enjoyable trip. No one wants their once in a lifetime adventure cut short because that cute monkey bit your finger when he stole your Snickers bar and gave you rabies.
(If that happens by the way, seek urgent medical care as the survival rate of rabies once symptoms start is, wait for it… zero… having the rabies vaccine before you go simplifies the treatment and means your body already has a good stock of antibodies ready, but it won’t make you immune.)
The symptoms of diseases such as Hepatitis A and Typhoid Fever are unpleasant at best, and can be life threatening if left untreated. By getting relevant vaccines before you go in a nice, clean, relaxed clinic, you significantly reduce the risk of having a medical emergency in a potentially unhygienic, non-sterile environment where you don’t speak the language and feel awful.
As well as protecting you, being vaccinated also help prevent the spread of diseases. If you don’t get it, you can’t pass it on.
I’m scared of needles, do I have to have them?
There are many places in the world that don’t require you to have any vaccinations as long as you’ve had the standard UK childhood vaccines. You should be safe in UK, and in parts of Europe, North America, Canada, New Zealand and Australia as long as you are staying in built up areas with a high level of sanitation and good healthcare. Even in these places though, there is limited risk of diseases such as Tetanus, Hepatitis B, and even Rabies if you are in certain areas, so it’s still a good idea to double check before you go. Even if you don’t intend to go off the beaten track, knowing what you need in case an unpassable opportunity comes up will help you keep safe.
As for more exotic locations such as South-East Asia or Indonesia, it is strongly advised that you do get appropriate vaccines. After all, if you were to contract a disease, the effects and treatment would be far worse than a couple of vaccines.
There are some places where it is compulsory to have been vaccinated because the risks of certain diseases are so high. Yellow Fever vaccination certificates are required for entry to certain countries if you are travelling from a high-risk location such as parts of South & Central America and Africa.
If you are afraid of needles, but need a vaccine for where you’re going, tell the nurse at the time of your appointment. There are some vaccines that can be combined to reduce the amount of vaccines you need. There are also a small number that can be given orally but these aren’t always available. The nurse may also be able to give you more time, let you lie down or take a friend with you if necessary. Remember it’s very quick, and many vaccines last for years and some last a lifetime, so you’re doing your future self a favour by getting them out of the way now!
Ok, I’m convinced, how do I find out if I need vaccines?
Travel Health Pro is a great, free resource providing vaccine information for all countries, as well as other general information, important news and details of outbreaks. It also has some helpful factsheets and details about different diseases.
Once you have an idea, it’s good to talk about it with a trained travel nurse to discuss the specifics of where you’re going, how long for and what you’ll be doing while you’re there. They will be able to ascertain the level of risk and advise the appropriate course of vaccinations for your trip.
Some vaccines require more than one dose to be given a few weeks apart so make an appointment at least 6 weeks before you go, although if you don’t have that much time, it is still worth going to at least start the course.
The travel nurse will also be able to advise if it is necessary to take anti-malaria medication, which is usually given in tablet form. The nurse can give you enough tablets for the duration of your trip and advise you how they should be taken.
Many GP surgeries do not offer travel vaccines, or only a limited selection, and they are not always available on the NHS. You will likely have to pay for your vaccines wherever you go and may need to find a travel clinic for everything you need.
Make sure the travel clinic you choose is a designated Yellow Fever Vaccination Centre (YFVC) if you know you need a yellow fever vaccine. A list of YFVCs can be found on NaTHNaC’s website.
Is there anything else I should know?
You should be given a vaccination record when you have your travel vaccinations, or you might already have one if you’ve had some in the past. Carry this with you on your trip so that local healthcare teams have a record of your vaccination status if you do end up needing treatment.
Make sure you have adequate travel insurance before you go, so you can be quickly and easily repatriated if you do become ill.
Check the Travel Aware website to find out key information about your destination to make sure you stay safe. Sign up for email alerts, or like their Facebook page to keep up to date with the latest travel advice.
Did you know… All Health Matters clinics are YFVCs and appointments include a travel consultation which is free when you spend £45 or more on travel vaccines and medication. Contact our lovely admin team for more information or to book an appointment.