Safe Travelling With Medical Conditions: Why And How To Get Travellers Vaccines

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A happy traveller standing with their back to a flowing fountain.

When you live with an existing medical condition, planning a trip abroad can take a little more preparation than usual. One important aspect of international travel (depending on your destination) are travel vaccines, which can help keep you and others around you protected from dangerous diseases not normally found in the UK such as yellow fever, dengue fever, or hepatitis A. 

Whether you’re wondering what vaccines are required to travel to Europe, Bali, or Thailand, you may worry that these travel vaccinations could have adverse side effects, triggering a relapse or even causing a new health issue. However, not receiving vaccines before travel means you are at risk of falling ill abroad, potentially with a serious illness. Your travel insurance may also not cover you if you don’t receive the recommended vaccines, meaning you may not be able to access potentially life-saving emergency treatment abroad without paying for it either in advance or after treatment.

In the end, it is about balancing the risk of getting ill with the risk of side effects or relapses – speak to your health care provider ahead of booking a vaccine appointment to get a professional opinion.

Without further ado, let’s find out more about travel vaccines and their importance!

What Are Travellers Vaccines And How Do They Work?

Travelers vaccines are specialised vaccinations you’ll need when visiting certain regions, where an infectious disease not present in the UK is prevalent. While vaccines on the UK’s national vaccination schedule (which most people receive as standard when growing up) help to protect you at home, you may need additional vaccinations to protect yourself in other parts of the world.

Like other vaccines, they work by introducing a small, harmless part, or a weakened form of the virus into the body. This exposure triggers the immune system to produce an immune response, including the production of antibodies and the development of memory cells. In case of subsequent exposure to the actual virus, the immune system can quickly recognize and neutralise the threat, stopping you from falling ill or reducing the severity of the symptoms.

The duration of vaccine coverage varies depending on the specific vaccine. Some vaccines provide long-lasting immunity, requiring only one dose or occasional booster shots, while others may require multiple doses or boosters at regular intervals to maintain protection. It’s crucial for you to adhere to the correct vaccination schedule in order to be adequately protected for your trip – that is why we recommend getting in touch with a GP or travel medicine specialist at least 6 to 8 weeks before your planned departure date.

A beautiful tropical scenery, illustrating the topic of travellers vaccines needed for travel to Thailand or South East Asia

How To Book Vaccinations For Travel

If you’re wondering where to get vaccinations for international travel, your first port of call should be your usual GP or family doctor. Your GP has access to your medical history and will be able to provide personalised advice that is understanding of your existing conditions.

During your appointment, be sure to discuss your travel itinerary in detail – talk to your doctor about the countries you plan to visit, the duration of your stay, and the type of activities you’ve planned. This information will help them to determine the necessary vaccinations for your specific needs. 

You’ll also need to disclose any pre-existing medical conditions, allergies, or medications you are currently taking – this is especially crucial to assess whether certain vaccines are suitable for you. Make sure to ask about side effects and any precautions you should take after receiving the vaccines, considering your existing health conditions and medications in order to avoid harmful interactions. If necessary, get assessed at a specialist travel centre such as the UCLH travel clinic.

Finally, you’ll need to make sure your routine vaccinations, such as tetanus, flu, or the measles/mumps vaccine, are up to date – this is particularly important for those living with existing medical conditions, as you may be more susceptible to certain infections.

If vaccinations are needed, your GP or practice nurse will schedule appointments for giving you the vaccines. And like we mentioned previously, some vaccines may require multiple doses or boosters, so plan accordingly to allow sufficient time before your travel date!

It’s also important to remember not all GPs will offer full consultations for travel vaccination, and may not always have the required vaccines in stock – if your GP isn’t able to provide the vaccines for travellers needed for your trip, visit your pharmacist as many of them have started travel clinics and have private consultation rooms. There are also other travel clinics or travel medicine specialists for a consultation instead.

Wondering how to stay healthy while on holiday?

Find out about travel medicine and more healthy travel tips here!

A woman receiving a travel vaccine

What Travellers Vaccines Do I Need?

The vaccines required for your trip will depend on your destination, the time of the year you’re traveling, and the activities you’ll be doing. Some of the most common vaccinations for travel include:

Yellow Fever Vaccination

The yellow fever vaccine protects you against the yellow fever disease, a viral infection often transmitted by mosquito bites. Symptoms of yellow fever include a high temperature, nausea and vomiting, muscle pain, and a headache – all varying from very mild to fatal. The vaccine is given in a single dose and boosters are usually not needed.

Hepatitis A and B

Vaccination for hepatitis A is recommended for travel to a number of countries and rural areas, particularly those with poor sanitation, while hepatitis B vaccines are required for countries where the virus is present. The combination vaccine for hepatitis A and B is usually given in three doses over a number of weeks, so plan ahead to ensure you’ll have time to receive all doses!

COVID-19 Vaccine

Is the Covid vaccine required for international travel? As of now, travellers are no longer required to show proof of COVID-19 vaccination at most destinations abroad. However, contact your GP if you have not been vaccinated against COVID-19, and you are travelling to a country that requires proof of vaccination or a negative COVID-19 test.

Malaria Medication

Protection from malaria, found in tropical climates and transmitted by mosquitoes, is given via tablets rather than vaccines. Before travelling to an area of the world where malaria is present, you’ll be given antimalarial medication tablets to take before, during, and after your trip.

Other vaccines you may need to consider include diphtheria, polio and tetanus boosters, cholera, typhoid, Japanese encephalitis, meningitis, rabies, tuberculosis and more. Check with your GP or specialist care team before booking your trip and make sure you have a consultation well in advance of your trip in case multiple doses are required.

For a list of travel vaccines and travel vaccine requirements for foreign countries, as well as any current health warnings, check the Fit For Travel NHS website. (The Center for Disease Control and Prevention is another great resource for those located in the United States.)

Will I Still Be Covered On My Travel Insurance If I’m Not Vaccinated?

There are some vaccines you should consider taking as a precaution before you travel but it all depends on the risks at your destination and what activities you plan to do while you’re away. The requirements for vaccination in different countries may change such as with Covid.

Should you fall ill prior to travel with Covid (you may need to have the virus confirmed as Covid by a medical practitioner via an approved test) or get Covid while abroad requiring hospitalisation you would be covered provided that you are up to date with the recommended Government vaccines for your age or vulnerability group.

The fact that you might not have had the recommended number of jabs wouldn’t prevent you from being covered for any other medical issues, this cover clause relates specifically to Covid.  For example, catching flu without having had a flu-jab would not invalidate your cover.

For travel to countries where vaccinations are required for specific diseases that don’t occur in the UK, the picture is more complicated.  You could risk invalidating your claim should you fall ill with a disease that could have been avoided by following recommended advice to have certain jabs and medication before travel.

Travel insurance policies have a lot of sections, and it is worth familiarising yourself with the cover being offered and any exclusions in place.

It is worth consulting a medical practitioner to ask ahead of travel to check what preventative steps are required and to arrange suitable travel insurance with an insurance broker.

BIBA’s Find Insurance Service can put people seeking insurance in contact with a broker via www.biba.org.uk/find-insurance or 0370 950 1790.

BIBA – British Insurance Brokers’ Association

Summary On Travellers Vaccines

Getting the right travel vaccinations is crucial, especially for destinations with diseases uncommon in the UK, like yellow fever or hepatitis A.

Not getting vaccinated puts you at risk of serious illness abroad, and your travel insurance might not cover you without the recommended vaccines. But when you live with a pre-existing medical condition, you need to weigh the risk of illness against potential side effects and negative reactions. 

Talk to your GP or healthcare provider before booking a vaccine appointment and disclose all your medical conditions for personalised advice. And don’t forget to make sure your routine vaccinations are up to date!

Frequently Asked Questions: Travellers Vaccines

Does The NHS Still Do Travel Vaccinations?

While some travel vaccines are usually free on the NHS, such as diphtheria, polio, tetanus, cholera, typhoid, and hepatitis A and B (meaning the only money you’ll need to spend is on your actual holiday!), you may need to pay for other vaccines. If you’re wondering “where can I get travel vaccinations for free?”, contact your GP to find out which of your vaccines will be covered by the NHS travel vaccinations policy, or get a quote from a specialised travel clinic.

What Vaccine To Get For Travel / What Jabs Do I Need For Holiday?

You will need different vaccinations to travel depending on your destination. Check the NHS or CDC website to find out about health warnings in your holiday destination, and speak to your GP about your existing medical conditions to ensure vaccine safety. Common vaccines required for travel include yellow fever, japanese encephalitis, and rabies – so make sure to protect yourself!

Do Chemists Do Travel Vaccines?

Certain chemists and pharmacies may offer some travellers vaccines, but the range of vaccines available and the specific services provided can vary. Some larger pharmacies such as Boots and Superdrug may offer certain travel vaccines, such as those for hepatitis A and B, typhoid, or the flu. However, more specialised vaccines and in-depth travel health advice may be better obtained through a GP or a  specialist hospital-linked travel clinic such as UCLH travel clinic.

Are Travel Vaccines Safe?

Travellers vaccines are generally considered safe and have gone through rigorous testing for efficacy and safety. Common side effects, such as soreness or mild fever, are mild and temporary, and serious side effects are rare. If you have an existing medical condition, however, it is crucial to speak to your GP ahead of booking vaccinations to ensure their safety.

Do I Really Need Travel Vaccinations?

Whether you need travel vaccinations will depend on a few factors, including your destination, the duration of your stay, your health history and medical conditions, and the vaccinations you’ve already received, like the measles vaccine. Speak to a healthcare professional or a travel health clinic to assess your specific needs – some countries may require certain vaccinations for entry, while others are recommended based on the current public health status and risk of exposure. 

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