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Vaccinations Before International Travel

Vaccinations Before International Travel
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By Steve Nubie

Vaccines before traveling internationally are either routine, recommended or required.  If you don’t know what you need before you depart you might have a difficult time returning.

International travel for those of us over 50 is something that we may have always looked forward to. It’s exciting, adventurous and can at times be dangerous.  Past concerns about Ebola, alerts related to SARS and H1N1 pose very real threats to any traveler.  Common sense indicates that it’s best to avoid those areas for travel, but even in countries with no apparent outbreaks caution and a bit of research are a wise approach.

The fact of the matter is that in many parts of the world, certain diseases and conditions are still present and could pose a threat. Old world afflictions from Diphtheria to Cholera and Typhus still show up with regularity in some countries.  For many of these conditions, vaccines and inoculations are available to prevent their occurrence.  But it’s all for naught if you fail to get the immunization before you depart.  In fact, U.S. immigration may delay your re-entry into the United States if you travel to some foreign destinations without required immunizations.   You could even find yourself quarantined if you show symptoms of any illness upon your return if you don’t have the proper documentation for required vaccinations.

Do some research

Immunizations related to international travel fall into 3 categories.

  1. Routine
  2. Recommended
  3. Required

Routine immunizations are the usual bundle of inoculations we receive as kids and continue to boost as we grow older. They cover a range from measles to mumps to tetanus.  If you are due for a booster you should get one before you travel internationally.

Recommended immunizations are worth thinking about. They cover illnesses and diseases that can potentially occur in a country you are visiting, but statistically don’t indicate a mandatory need.  It’s probably worth considering these vaccinations, because nothing ruins a trip faster than getting ill far from home.

Required immunizations are simply that: “required.”  It means that the risk of infection in a country or area is great enough to require this vaccine.  In fact, you will need to have documentation that verifies you have received these required immunizations in order to enter these countries.  Curiously, the country you are visiting may not ask to see those documents.  However, when you return to the U.S. the immigration agent will ask for them the minute after you identify the country you had just visited.  This does not apply to most countries you might travel to in Europe. However, in parts of Asia, Africa, the Mid-East and India the rules are strict and specific.  If a vaccine is required, get it and keep those documents with your passport and other travel papers.

Plan ahead

Don’t wait until the week before your trip to get a required immunization. Some immunizations such as the Anthrax vaccine involve a series of shots over weeks, and some require months.  Most only involve one injection, but it’s best not to find out the hard way.  Check with your doctor as soon as you determine you have to receive a required vaccine to assess timing.  There are also occasions when vaccines cannot be combined and require a waiting period if you have to receive multiple inoculations.  Here again, plan ahead.

Side effects of vaccines?

Yes, you may suffer a side-effect from some vaccines.  It’s often difficult to determine if this will happen to you, but if you are fearful about a side-effect for a required vaccine you can either talk to your doctor about the possibility, or you may want to reconsider your destination.

The good news is that many vaccines are a one-time inoculation. This could simplify future international travel as you acquire more and more vaccines for required immunizations.  Remember to keep your paperwork though.  It’s one thing to have the inoculation, it’s another thing when you have to prove it to an immigration agent at the airport.

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