When to get vaccinations for your summer trip

Planning ahead is the key to safe, healthy globe-trotting

passport and vaccination certificate

There are just a few days to go before your big trip overseas. You’ve triple-checked your itinerary, memorized important maps, and maybe even practiced speaking a bit of the local language. But unless you have taken the proper vaccination measures well in advance, your health may be at risk.

One of the most overlooked to-dos on a busy pre-travel itinerary checklist is the need to get vaccines and other medical preparations taken care of weeks — sometimes even months — before a trip, says Laura Guerrero, M.D., an internal medicine physician and medical director of the Travel Clinic.

“Depending on where in the world you are going, you may be exposed to diseases and other pathogens that your body just hasn’t had to cope with here in the United States. Often, vaccines are the best preventative measure to protect your health,” said Guerrero. “But what people sometimes forget is that many vaccines have to be taken over an extended period of time before they can effectively prevent an illness.”

Routine, recommended, and required vaccinations

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) divides travel vaccines into three categories: routine, recommended, and required. Guerrero says the number and type of vaccines you should receive will vary depending on what part of the world you are traveling to.

“Your particular vaccination and health needs can be as different as the Amazon jungle is to the Sahara desert,” she said. “The only way to know what vaccinations are recommended for you is by consulting with your doctor at least one month before you plan on traveling abroad.”

The right vaccine at the right time

Routine vaccinations are designed to protect you from diseases that rarely occur in the United States, but are still common in many parts of the world. According to the CDC, routine vaccinations should be administered for things such as influenza, tetanus, hepatitis A and B, measles, chickenpox, and zoster (shingles).

Exactly what routine vaccinations travelers should get will also depend mainly on your age and gender. And if you are traveling with children, they will likely require different vaccinations than an adult. Infants may need to have their vaccines administered over a period of several days or weeks, explains Dr. Guerrero.

Recommended vaccinations will also depend on where you are traveling. The CDC lists vaccine information about specific destinations around the world on its website. The site includes detailed health information about specific countries.

“We will update your shot record so we know what vaccines you should be receiving,” said Guerrero. “And we will also counsel you about what diseases may be present in your destination, and how you can avoid exposure.”

As far as required vaccinations go, international health regulations currently only require a vaccination for yellow fever for travelers visiting certain countries in sub-Saharan Africa and tropical South America. Meningococcal vaccination is also required by the government of Saudi Arabia for annual travel during the Hajj—the term for the annual pilgrimage to Mecca, Saudi Arabia, which occurs sometime between November and January.

“Even if you do not get your travel vaccines in time, it’s always a good idea to see your doctor before you travel abroad because you can still benefit from medications and other information about how to protect yourself from illness and injury while on vacation in another country,” added Guerrero.

Healthy tips while abroad

Once you have followed the vaccination schedule exactly, there are many other health considerations to take into account, Guerrero said. If you are taking prescription medications, for example, make sure you bring enough to last your entire trip and that you keep them stowed in their original containers. It’s also a good idea to bring medicine for diarrhea, and to be cautious about drinking from local water supplies or eating things like raw seafood or other uncooked items.

“Part of ensuring a memorable travel experience abroad is making sure you are prepared for any potential health situations,” said Guerrero. “For example, if you have a preexisting health condition, it’s always a good idea to know what your emergency care options are if something were to happen abroad. By taking the proper health planning measures, your trip of a lifetime can be filled with good memories instead of bad ones.”