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Travel Vaccinations 101: Things to Know Before you Go

May 23, 2013

Vaccinations are a highly debated topic among parents and travelers alike. Getting immunized against potential diseases when you are traveling the world is an individual decision that you need to make with the help of a travel medicine professional.

Even if you rarely deal with Western approaches when it comes to health, it is in your best interest to meet with a travel medicine physician or nurse to discuss your plans. They are specifically trained to diagnose and treat global diseases and will know what disease exposure you may encounter while traveling.

Ultimately, the decision to get a vaccination is yours to make, but it is important to know the risks and speak to a travel medicine professional who can guide you in your journey. When you’re ready to make your appointment, be sure to have the following in mind:

  • Plan for vaccinations in advance. Allow for plenty of time to get vaccinations before traveling—at least four to six weeks. Some vaccinations and medications require a series of shots or treatments that must be administered over the course of several weeks. You’ll need the list of countries where you plan to travel so that your travel medicine specialist can determine what vaccinations and medications you’ll need. Be sure to mention areas you might travel to but aren’t yet sure of, better to be thorough than not. Travel medicine professionals receive daily updates on global disease transmissions and risks.
  • Know your personal health history. It is important to know which vaccinations you may have had as a child. If you don’t already have this information, have a conversation with your parents if possible to get more details about your health history as a child, as well as any conditions they, or other family members, might have that could affect you down the road.
  • Do not rely solely on your general practitioner. It is important to consult a medical professional who specializes in travel medicine. Travel medicine specialists are up-to-date on current risks and outbreaks around the world, and have intimate knowledge down to specific in-country locations. Detailed knowledge such as this is extremely valuable, and not something in which your family doctor specializes.
  • Know the risks of your destination country. Keep in mind that diseases that have been eradicated in the United States, such as polio and typhoid, are still major problems today in other parts of the world. Educate yourself, read up on these issues and talk to your travel physician in-depth about your activity plans.
  • Take insurance into account. Some insurance companies don’t cover travel vaccinations. Be sure to check with your insurance provider before you take any action so that you know what to expect in terms of reimbursement and coverage.
A great online resource is the federally managed Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), whose website has an excellent section devoted to travelers’ health, including everything you need to know about the countries you're traveling to.