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Travel vaccinations - Introduction

NHS Choices Medical Reference

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There's no point spending hours choosing your swimwear, beach bag and flip-flops if you barely think about the bugs and other health risks that could ruin your holiday.

Almost one in four UK holidaymakers don't have any vaccinations before they go away, despite travelling to areas that have life-threatening infectious diseases.

It's not worth skipping travel vaccinations. Infectious diseases can make you very sick, spoil your holiday and even kill or disable you.

Vaccinations protect you against many travel-related infections, such as yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A. Use the information on these pages to learn about travel vaccines, which ones you need for your destination, and when and where to get them.

In the UK, the childhood vaccination programme protects against a number of diseases, such as tetanus, but it does not cover most of the infectious diseases that are found overseas.

For additional general information, read our articles on travel health.

Travel vaccinations

You can find out which vaccinations are necessary or recommended for the areas you will be visiting on these two websites:

Some countries require you to have an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) before you enter. For example, Saudi Arabia requires proof of vaccination against certain types of meningitis for visitors arriving for the Hajj and Umrah pilgrimages.

Many tropical countries in Africa and South America will not accept travellers from an area where there is yellow fever, unless they can prove that they have been vaccinated against it.

Read more about the vaccines currently available for travellers abroad.

Getting vaccinated

You don't always need vaccinations to travel abroad. If you do, the type of travel jabs you need depends on which country you're visiting and what you're doing.

First off, phone or visit your GP or practice nurse for advice on whether your existing UK jabs are up-to-date (they can tell from your notes). Your GP or practice nurse may also be able to give you general advice about travel vaccinations and travel health, such as protecting yourself from malaria.

Your GP or practice nurse can give you a booster of your UK jabs if you need one. They may be able to give you the travel jabs you need, either free on the NHS or for a small charge.

Alternatively, you can visit a local private travel vaccination clinic for your UK boosters and other travel jabs.

Not all vaccinations are available free on the NHS, even if they're recommended for travel to a certain area.

Free travel vaccinations

The following travel jabs are free on the NHS:

These vaccines are free because they protect against diseases thought to represent the greatest risk to public health if they were brought into the country.

Many GPs do not charge for the second (booster) dose of hepatitis A or the combined hepatitis A and hepatitis B vaccine.

Private travel vaccinations

You're likely to have to pay for travel vaccinations against meningococcal meningitis, hepatitis B, yellow fever, rabies, tuberculosis, Japanese encephalitis and tick-borne encephalitis, regardless of whether you have the vaccinations at your GP surgery or at a private travel clinic (although GPs can choose not to charge you).

Yellow fever vaccines are only available from designated centres. The National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) website can help you find where to get a yellow fever vaccination.

The cost of travel vaccines at private clinics will vary, but could be around £50 for each dose of a vaccine. Therefore, if a vaccine requires three doses, the total cost could be around £150. It's worth considering this when budgeting for your trip.

Things to consider

There are several things to consider when planning your travel vaccinations, including:

  • the country or countries you are visiting - in some cases, the region of a country you are visiting will also be important
  • when you are travelling - some diseases are more common at certain times of the year, for example during the rainy season
  • where you are staying - in general, you will be more at risk of getting diseases in rural areas than in urban areas
  • if you are backpacking and staying in hostels or camping, you may be more at risk than if you were on a package holiday and staying in a hotel
  • how long you will be staying - the longer your stay, the greater your risk of being exposed to diseases
  • your age and health - some people may be more vulnerable to infection than others, while some vaccinations cannot be given to people with certain medical conditions
  • what you will be doing during your stay - for example, whether you will be spending a lot of time outdoors, such as trekking or working in rural areas
  • if you are working as an aid worker, you may come into contact with more diseases if you are working in a refugee camp or helping after a natural disaster
  • if you are working in a medical setting - for example, a doctor or nurse may require additional vaccinations
  • if you are in contact with animals, you may be more at risk of getting diseases that are spread by animals, such as rabies

If you are only travelling to countries in northern and central Europe, North America or Australia, it is unlikely that you will need to have any vaccinations.

If possible, see your GP at least eight weeks before you are due to travel, because some vaccinations need to be given well in advance.

Pregnancy and breastfeeding

Speak to your GP before having any vaccinations if:

In many cases, it is unlikely that a vaccine given while pregnant or breastfeeding will cause problems for the baby. However, your GP will be able to give you further advice.

People with immune deficiencies

For some people travelling overseas, vaccination against certain diseases may not be advised. This may be the case if:

  • you have a condition that affects your body's immune system, such as HIV or AIDS
  • you are receiving treatment that affects your immune system, such as chemotherapy (a treatment for cancer)
  • you have recently had a bone marrow or organ transplant

Your GP can give you further advice.

Medical Review: February 09, 2012
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