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Do You Need a Vaccination Before Travelling?

If you're going somewhere exotic, here’s how to find out what kind of inoculations or medications you need

A gloved had holds a needle to the arm of a man rolling up the sleeve of his blue button down shirt to receive the shot

Vacation planning is exciting, but long before your suitcase is packed it’s important to research any health risks you may encounter abroad. “Education is power,” says Beatrix Morrallee, nursing manager at Passport Health, which specializes in travel medicine and immunization services with over 250 clinics across North America. Here is a quick rundown on how to ensure you’re safe before you step off the plane.

Start Planning Early

Travellers should start looking into the type of the inoculations and medications they need at least six to eight weeks prior to travel. “Vaccines, such as the hepatitis A vaccine, start working right away, while others will start to take effect partway into a last-minute trip,” says Morrallee.

Talk to an Expert

First, ensure that all your routine immunizations are up to date—everything from polio and varicella (chickenpox/shingles) to those given from previous travel, says Morrallee. “Travellers should book an appointment with a full-service Yellow Fever Certified Travel Health clinic,” she advises. They’ll not only be able to provide consultation and on-site vaccines, but also a wealth of information on what you should pack and how to avoid unnecessary risk.

Assess Individual Dangers  

Keep in mind that the risk of illness while abroad for seniors, children and pregnant women may be higher than for the average traveller. Some diseases, like malaria or the Zika virus, can be more serious for expecting mothers, and not all vaccines are safe to be given during pregnancy. “Seniors may have a higher risk of needing medical care while travelling abroad due to chronic illnesses or injury,” adds Morrallee. And diarrhea is the most common ailment for children, who are more sensitive to food- and water-borne illnesses.

Consider all the Details

Are you going backpacking across Europe? Taking a train through Asia? Staying on a resort in Cuba? “Vaccinations can be recommended depending on the type, destination and length of travel,” explains Morrallee. Important factors, discussed at your consultation, include:

- Your age, health history and whether your routine immunizations are up to date

- The time of the year and season you’ll be travelling

- Whether you’re staying in an urban or rural area

- What kind of activities you’ll be doing

Check Your Destination’s Regulations

Some countries require travellers to have proof of certain vaccinations. For example, yellow fever certification is mandatory for 34 countries in Africa and 13 countries in Central and South America. “The most common vaccines for travellers are hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid fever and cholera,” says Morrallee. “Medications to prevent malaria are recommended for certain areas, and Japanese encephalitis is recommended for some travellers to Asia.” Check the Government of Canada’s extensive list of vaccines based on destinations, including potential illnesses and travel advisories, at the travel.gc.ca website.

Pack All the Necessities

Don’t rely on buying first-aid supplies or medications at your destination, as they may not be available worldwide or differ to what is offered in Canada. Refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website for a list of basic items. Morrallee also recommends carrying an up-to-date immunization record or even a picture of the record on a phone, in case of emergency. Then, once you’re fully prepped, you can relax and enjoy your vacation.