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A trip abroad requires you to be up-to-date on a whole checklist of things these days: travel insurance, airline policies, visas, passports, and, as far as your health is concerned, vaccines. Yet while the COVID-19 pandemic has made us acutely aware of the importance of staying healthy on the road, travel vaccines have always been a mainstay of safe travel—a crucial tool in avoiding the (often expensive) headaches of getting sick, and treating sicknesses, abroad.
Whether you have travel on the horizon or want to be prepared for 2023 trips and beyond, this guide will get you up to speed on the vaccinations required for travel depending on your destination, itinerary, and health status. Follow the below steps to protect your immune system in another country.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends all travelers be up to date on routine vaccines before travel. Routine vaccines include shots like COVID-19; chickenpox; Hepatitis A and B; Influenza; Measles, Mumps, Rubella (MMR); Polio; and more. The CDC has a full list of routine vaccines here.
“‘Routinely recommended vaccines’ are vaccines that have been considered very important to prevent common diseases in the population to start,” says Lin H. Chen, M.D. director of the Travel Medicine Center at Mount Auburn Hospital in Cambridge, Massachusetts, and the former president of the International Society of Travel Medicine (ISTM).
Routine vaccines protect against disease that exists at low levels (chickenpox) or barely exists at all (measles) in the U.S. They also protect against severe disease from diseases that are still present in the United States (influenza or COVID-19). Generally, they’re given in childhood or adolescence—though some are given through adulthood—so it’s always a good idea to double-check your vaccination records.
When traveling, routine shots are especially important because international travel increases your chances of both contracting and spreading diseases that aren’t common in the U.S. A good example of this is measles. While it’s practically non-existent in the U.S., international travel increases your risk of exposure and popular destinations including Europe still have measles outbreaks.
It’s worth double checking your status even if you think you’re up to date: “During the pandemic, some routine vaccination programs may have suffered lapses, so there is concern that diseases may become more common,” says Dr. Chen.
The routine vaccination recommendations have also changed over the years (the addition of the COVID-19 vaccine to the list is an example) and it’s easy to let vaccines like tetanus (generally needed every 10 years) lapse.
“It is even recommended at this time that certain adults who are traveling who have not had a polio vaccine for many years and are traveling to a risk area get an additional dose of the polio vaccine,” says Elizabeth D. Barnett, M.D., a professor at Boston University Medical School and a leader in the field of travel and tropical Medicine.