IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers| IAMAT |International Association of Medical Assistance to Travellers|

Travel Health Journal


Short on cash and time? 6 things to know about prioritizing vaccines

This is Part 1 of 3 from our Travel Vaccines on a Budget series. See Part 2 and Part 3.

One of the most common questions we get asked from travellers is about where to find affordable vaccines. The costs of vaccines and travel health consultations vary among providers and you’ll find that prices can skyrocket very quickly.

In North America, travel vaccines are not subsidized by government plans so if you don’t have insurance that covers them, your wallet will undoubtedly take a hit. The good news though is that you can prioritize travel vaccines with the help of your doctor or travel health practitioner.

Get your routine immunizations updated

First off, we always recommend being up-to-date with your routine immunizations. These vaccines are free since they’re covered by government health plans. They are your first line of defense for diseases that protect you both at home and abroad like the yearly Influenza shot, Tetanus-Diphtheria-Pertussis, Measles-Mumps-Rubella, and Polio.

How to prioritize travel vaccines

If you’re on a budget or a last-minute traveller, ask yourself the following questions that will help you prioritize vaccination.

  1. What is the risk of acquiring a vaccine-preventable disease at my destination?

Here’s where a little bit of research will go a long way to determine if you need to get vaccinated for a travel-related illness. Find out if there are current outbreaks or ongoing epidemics in the local population or if there are reports of travellers returning with vaccine-preventable illnesses. A good place to start is our Country Health Advice section.

  1. What is the length of my trip?

Risk of acquiring a travel-related illness increases over time. If you’re going on a 6-week volunteer trip to Central America, the chances of getting sick are greater than if you’re only going for a 1-week resort stay in the Dominican Republic. Also, consider the season during which you’ll be travelling. For example, in the temperate areas of Southeast Asia, the risk of Japanese Encephalitis is higher during and right after the rainy season while Meningococcal Meningitis outbreaks in the African Meningitis Belt usually occur during the dry season.

  1. What type of travel will I be doing?

The type of travel influences your exposure to illness. For example, backpacking through Southeast Asia or visiting family and relatives for 2 months in Ghana increases your risk of getting Hepatitis A or Typhoid Fever as opposed to staying in a 5-star hotel in Shanghai.

  1. How much time do I have before my departure?

Many travel vaccines come in a series. This means you’ll have to get more than one shot to build up adequate immunity. We recommend starting your vaccination schedule at least 6 weeks before your trip so you can get all the shots you need on time and to give your immune system enough time to build-up antibodies.

Even if you’re leaving at the last-minute, try and get an appointment with your healthcare practitioner before your departure, even if it’s the day before. While antibodies usually take 7-14 days to develop, partial immunity is better than none. Talk to your healthcare provider about accelerated vaccine schedules and if this is the right approach for you. In case you didn’t know, all vaccines (at least the first doses of the series) can be given simultaneously, although you will be sore after the experience!

  1. Are there any contraindications to the vaccines?

Some travellers are not good candidates for certain vaccines, especially live vaccines if you have a compromised immune system or if you’re allergic to a vaccine component like neomycin or gelatin.  You may also discover that the vaccine may interfere with the medication you’re taking. Talk to your healthcare provider about alternatives and prevention measures.

  1. Can I protect myself without getting vaccinated?

While it’s difficult to determine your exact risk of acquiring an illness, your behavior plays a large role in determining if you’re more or less prone to acquire an illness.

If you are very conscious of washing your hands frequently and thoroughly, sneezing or coughing in your sleeve or a tissue and disposing of it properly, eating well cooked foods or fruits and vegetables you can peel on your own, drinking purified water at all times, and diligently using insect repellents or sleeping under a bed net if needed, you reduce your chances of getting ill.

While the risk may be low, remember that one insect bite or contaminated ice cube can ruin your vacation and may even have long term health consequences. No vaccine is 100% effective, but getting vaccinated strengthens your immune system and gives you an additional line of defense against preventable diseases.

Our next post in our Travel Vaccines on a Budget series looks at where to find affordable vaccines and the cost of required and recommended travel vaccines.

Photo courtesy of Brian Hoskins, freeimages.