Do I need to get travel vaccinations?

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Travel Vaccinations…?

Well, it’s just a quick trip to Bali, or a weekend shopping trip in Bangkok, is it really necessary to go to all that trouble? It’s not a camping trip or hike in the mountains, there shouldn’t be too much exposure to diseases, right?

But there are actually still some risks involved, even if you’re heading into a developed city.

WHAT RISKS ARE THERE?

The higher the traveller traffic, the higher the possibility of contracting certain diseases. Even in urbanised environments, there are risks of various diseases such as typhoid, tetanus and Hepatitis A.

The vaccinations you need may vary from region to region, even within the same country. Take China, for instance. If you are visiting the smaller cities or rural parts, where there might be inadequate access to clean water, you may face the risk of contracting typhoid through the consumption of unclean food or water.

WASN’T I ALREADY VACCINATED AS A BABY?

Yes, you were vaccinated as a baby and in primary school against tetanus, measles, rubella, mumps, diphtheria, whooping cough and polio. However, they may not be effective now. The tetanus vaccine, for instance, needs booster shots every 10 years after the age of 10 in order to work.

The immunity fades over time, which means some vaccinations require booster shots or a revaccination. Boosters are doses of a vaccine after the initial immunisation course. They are given to help revive your immune system and to produce more antibodies, hence strengthening your immunity to that disease

The Hepatitis B jab is now given to infants as part of the national vaccination programme. But if you were born before 1987, or if you grew up overseas, you may not be covered.

Depending on where you’re travelling to, you may be advised to get vaccinated against other diseases.

Travellers to China, India, Indonesia and Vietnam, for instance, are recommended to get jabs against Hepatitis A and B, influenza, Japanese encephalitis, rabies, typhoid and malaria.

Even if you are up to date with the standard list of travel vaccinations, it may not be sufficient.

For one, the possible diseases carried by travellers are unpredictable. Two, new outbreaks in Zika, Sars and MERS-CoV would usually mean updates in the vaccinations used. It is important to be kept up-to-date on your upcoming travel destination, and to speak to your doctor about the possible risks you may encounter.

WHAT YOU NEED TO KNOW

So, you’re convinced, and you’ve decided to get vaccinated before jetting off. In general, some of the commonly recommended vaccinations are as follows:

Influenza

  • Doses required: One
  • Time taken for vaccine to take effect: Two weeks
  • Duration of effect: Six to 12 months

Hepatitis A

  • Doses required: Two (six months apart)
  • Time taken for vaccine to take effect: Two weeks
  • Duration of effect: Eight to 10 years

Hepatitis B

  • Doses required: Three (zero, one and six months apart)
  • Time taken for vaccine to take effect: Two to four weeks; maximum efficacy after third dose
  • Duration of effect: Eight to 10 years

Typhoid

  • Doses required: One
  • Time taken for vaccine to take effect: Two weeks
  • Duration of effect: Three years

Tetanus

  • Doses required: One
  • Time taken for vaccine to take effect: Two weeks
  • Duration of effect: 10 years

Generally, it is safe to receive an extra dose of the same vaccination again even if you are previously vaccinated. You should also gather the following information before stepping into the doctor’s office:

  • Which part of the country you are travelling to
  • The duration of your trip
  • What activities you might do (for instance, hiking, swimming, camping)

Your body takes time to produce antibodies and build immunity; a process that generally takes about two weeks after the injection is administered.

To make it in time for your trip, consult your doctor at least four to six weeks before you leave the country. This period also includes the time you need to recover from any side effects such as fever, fatigue and soreness in the injected area.

Dr John Cheng
Head of Primary Care, Healthway Medical Group
Healthway Medical (Novena Square)