Travel Vaccinations: All You Need to Know
Going on holiday and travelling to new places can be exciting and even life-changing. However, it could change your life negatively if you contract an infectious disease while you are on your travels. This is why it is a requirement to get the appropriate travel vaccinations for whichever countries you will be travelling to. For first-time travellers, all of the information about travel vaccines can be overwhelming and scary. This guide to travel vaccinations will make things simple and answer the most common questions about them. Here is all you need to know about travel vaccinations.
How do travel vaccinations work and why do I need them?
Most people should receive standard courses of vaccinations as a baby and during their childhood. This is why many diseases are no longer circulating in the UK. However, in other countries with different immunization availability, some infectious diseases are still prevalent. Getting travel vaccinations before you visit such destinations can prevent you from catching diseases and bringing them back to the UK. Not only can vaccines protect you from getting seriously ill, but they can prevent you from spreading diseases as well to keep wider populations safe. The severity of diseases like this can vary from experiencing unpleasant symptoms to eventual death. This is why it is so important to prevent the spread of disease, and being vaccinated against diseases is one of the primary ways to do this. Vaccination teaches the immune system to recognize new pathogens and create antibodies in response. Then, if you do catch the disease, your immune system should be able to fight the infection. Vaccines are normally given through one or more injections.
Which travel vaccinations will I need?
The vaccinations that you should get before travelling depend on where you will be going, and what you will be doing there. Each country may have different risks and vaccination requirements. You are not likely to need any vaccinations if you are travelling within Northern Europe, Central Europe, North America, or Australia. Check the travel vaccination information for a particular country on the NHS Fit for Travel website to find out which vaccines are recommended. You should also visit your GP, who can assess your medical history and the risks of disease associated with your plans. The risk level depends on the area you are visiting, where you are staying, and which outdoor activities you will participate in. There will be a greater risk in rural areas, particularly if you will be near animals or volunteering/working as a medic.
When should I get travel vaccinations?
It is necessary to arrange your vaccinations in advance to ensure that you have enough time for them to start working before you travel. Some vaccinations require multiple doses, meaning it could take several weeks to complete the full course. If you need multiple vaccinations, then it is important to organize a vaccination schedule with your GP or travel clinic. This helps to spread the cost of the vaccinations if you are on a budget and avoids the unpleasantness of having to get multiple vaccines all at once. It is advisable to speak to your GP about travel vaccinations a minimum of 8 weeks before the date of departure. Getting all of your travel vaccinations at least 4-6 weeks before you leave should be fine.
Where can I get travel vaccinations in the UK?
Depending on which vaccinations you need, you may be able to get them through the NHS. Speak with your GP and they will tell you if you need to arrange a vaccination with a private travel clinic. If you are unable to get a vaccination on the NHS, you can book them through high street chemists such as Superdrug, or Boots, or Lloyds Pharmacy. It is also possible to get travel vaccination advice and medication for malaria prevention at pharmacies with travel health services like these. Some travel vaccinations, like yellow fever, are only available from designated centres in the UK.
How much do travel vaccinations cost?
Some travel vaccinations are free on the NHS. These are diphtheria, polio, tetanus, hepatitis A, typhoid, and cholera. You must get any other travel vaccinations required for private travel at your own expense. Travel vaccination prices will vary depending on which provider you go to for them. They will generally range from £45 to £90 per dose, which can get very expensive if you need multiple doses and vaccinations against multiple diseases. You can expect to pay the average prices below for chargeable travel vaccinations. Even the NHS could charge up to £50 per dose for them.
- Hepatitis B – from £45 per dose (around £150 for a full course of 3 doses)
- Japanese Encephalitis – from £89 per dose (around £180 for a full course of 2 doses)
- Meningitis – from £45 for a full course (1 dose)
- Yellow Fever – from £45 – £80 for a full course (1 dose)
- Tick-borne Encephalitis – from £60 per dose (up to £200 for a full course of 3 doses)
- Rabies – from £45 per dose (up to £180 for a full course of 3 doses)
How long do travel vaccinations last?
Travel vaccinations can be effective for up to 1 year or an entire lifetime, depending on the type of vaccination. Some will require booster shots after several years to maintain immunity. On average, vaccinations will last for the following:
- Diphtheria/Tetanus/Polio: 10 years
- Hepatitis A: 1 – 20 years
- Hepatitis B: 5 – 10 years
- Japanese Encephalitis: 1 – 3 years
- Rabies: 2 years
- Tick-Borne Encephalitis: 2 years
- Typhoid: 3 years
- Cholera: 6 months – 2 years
- Yellow Fever: 10 years – Life
- Meningococcal Meningitis: 3 – 5 years
Do travel vaccinations have side effects?
One of the reasons that people may be reluctant to get travel vaccinations is the potential side effects. Some people do not experience any side effects at all, and those who do will usually only experience temporary mild side effects. Allergic reactions to travel vaccinations are very rare. You are more likely to become ill due to not being vaccinated than you are to become ill from the vaccination itself. Here is a list of possible side effects from travel vaccinations:
- redness, swelling, and pain at the site of the injection
- joint pain or stiffness
- weak or aching muscles
- mild headache or fever
- nausea or vomiting
- sore throat or swollen glands
If you do experience any of these reactions to a travel vaccine, simply take painkillers and rest for a day until they pass. Visit your doctor if the symptoms you experience get worse or if your reaction has been very severe and is not settling.
Is it safe to get travel vaccinations if I am pregnant?
It is unlikely that getting a vaccine while you are pregnant or breastfeeding would have a negative effect on the baby. However, there are some vaccines which are not suitable, and also some vaccines which are not available at all. As pregnant people and babies are susceptible to disease, it is best to avoid travelling to areas where such vaccinations are necessary. If you are unable to postpone your trip, speak to your GP about travel vaccinations during pregnancy.
Can I get travel vaccinations if I have an immune deficiency?
If you have a condition or are having treatment which affects your immune system, getting vaccines is inadvisable. For example, if you are taking steroids, undergoing chemotherapy, or have HIV or AIDS, then your immune system may be compromised. Live vaccines are generally not recommended. Talk to your GP about the suitability of particular travel vaccinations if you have an immune deficiency. You may be able to get travel vaccines, but they can be less effective. This means that you may need to get higher doses and more frequent booster shots, and practise safety measures.
Is there a travel vaccination for malaria?
Malaria, Dengue Fever, and Zika Virus are diseases spread by mosquito bites which currently have no vaccine. Malaria is present in more than 100 countries, which puts around 40% of the global population at risk for malaria. This includes large areas throughout South America, Africa, India, the Middle East, South-east Asia, and Oceania. Malaria symptoms can present from 10 days to 4 weeks after the mosquito bite, and even up to a year later. If you are travelling to a high-risk area for malaria, it is advisable to take malaria prevention medication and to wear insect repellent spray and use mosquito nets. There are various types of anti-malarial tablets available. Your GP or a travel health clinic can advise on which ones are most effective against malaria in the region you are travelling to. You usually must begin taking anti-malaria medication several days to several weeks before you depart, and continue taking it for 4 weeks after leaving the area at risk. The only way to prevent against other tropical diseases with no vaccine is to be careful about hygiene, the food and drink you ingest, and your exposure to untreated water or insects. You should also avoid unprotected sex.
What will happen if I do not get travel vaccinations?
Travel vaccinations are not compulsory in some cases, but they may be mandatory to enter some countries. If you are coming from or have travelled through a high-risk area for infectious disease, you might need to provide vaccination certificates. Some countries do not require you to have travel vaccinations if you have already undergone the standard childhood immunization programme in the UK. If your travel destination is a high-risk area and they have vaccination requirements, it is in your best interest to get them. Paying for and experiencing a vaccine is much better than getting ill and being responsible for the spread of disease. Failing to get vaccinations can invalidate travel insurance policies if you end up falling ill because of that. You should also be aware that “natural immunity” only occurs through constant exposure. Just because you were born somewhere or have been there before does not mean that you are immune to the local diseases. This is a common misconception when people visit their countries of origin after many years away.
Are travel vaccinations covered by travel insurance?
Usually, travel insurance policies do not cover vaccinations. You cannot claim for travel vaccination costs from your travel insurance provider. However, not getting recommended vaccinations could invalidate your emergency medical treatment cover. If you have a private health insurance policy, then that might cover travel vaccinations instead. If not, you will have to pay for travel vaccinations yourself when they are not available for free on the NHS. Make sure to pay for travel insurance and adhere to its conditions should you get ill while abroad and need treatment and repatriation.