Most travellers should seek medical advice at least four weeks before departure. For those going to live or work overseas they should seek advice 6 months prior to departure so that one can complete all the vaccination follow ups as well. But even if leaving at short notice, it is never too late to seek advice.
What vaccines should I consider?
The following is a rough guide. Travel advice and vaccinations are personalized because recommendations depend on place, time of the year, duration and type of trip and can change frequently depending on current situations. So 2 people traveling to the same destination can be advised differently on what vaccinations to consider.
Should consider Polio and Tetanus boosters which is a childhood vaccines last taken at the age of 5 or 6. This comes in a combination vaccine which includes Tetanus Polio Diptheria and Pertusis(whooping cough). Travellers need to ensure immunity against Measles, Mumps and Rubella(there are infrequent outbreaks throughout the whole world). Flu Vaccine and Pneumonia Vaccine are recommended for travellers over 65 years of age or who have chronic lung disesases.
Certain vaccines are recommended for certain countries eg:
- If you are visiting a developing country you should consider taking a Hepatitis A vaccine, even if you are only visiting resorts and 5 star hotels
- If you plan to eat market or street stall food, then consider typhoid along with Hepatitis A
- Pilgrims to Saudi Arabia need Yellow Fever as well as Meningitis
- Yellow fever is mandatory for South America and Sub-Saharan Africa
Type of Trip
Certain vaccines are recommended depending on what you do while away eg.
- Travellers in contact with children, missionaries and health care workers as well as people doing adventurous sports eg. Scuba diving, Climbing etc. should have Hepatitis B
- Rabies vaccine for those that may come in contact with animals eg. Asia and Africa rural trips where access to medication is a few days away etc or going away on long trips.
- Typhoid and cholera vaccines might have to be considered if engaged in frequent water sports, scuba diving, etc.
For the same destination, if you are traveling for longer, the recommendations will be different, eg: If you travel to India for a week, you might not be at high risk for typhoid but if you are spending 2-3 weeks, you need to take typhoid vaccine.
Yellow fever is the only vaccine required by law to cross international boundaries.
Most of South America and Africa require yellow fever certification. Zambia and Argentina have been added to the list of Yellow Fever countries recently. In addition, countries like Pakistan, Bangladesh and Saudi Arabia also ask for Yellow Fever Certificates from South Africa travelers though these are not international guidelines.
During certain outbreaks like Cholera, one might be required to provide proof of vaccination against that disease if coming from an endemic country of outbreak.
Children, pregnant women and those with medical conditions need to consult a travel doctor regarding which vaccinations are recommended.
How are vaccines given?
Most are injectables but some are oral eg. Cholera (currently unavailable in South Africa).
What are the likely side effects?
These days most vaccines cause fewer problems than in the past. On the day of the vaccination, most people do not have any problems, but it is best to ‘take it easy’. Modern vaccines do not leave scars.
What if one is having a cold?
It is safe to get vaccinated while you have a bit of a runny nose, sore throat or cough. Only if you have high fever, it is a contraindication to vaccination but still if you are not that well, delay the vaccination until you feel better.
Try and see the travel doctor at least a month before departure but if you have no time left, it is never late!