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We, as humans, need to be vaccinated to develop adaptive immunity to various pathogens. Thus, vaccines prevent or ameliorate illness from infection. In addition to the routine vaccines, with age, we do develop innate immunity against some common infections specific to our immediate surroundings.
However, we are not immune against all the infections in different parts of the world. This becomes important when we plan to travel to those parts, as we would need to be vaccinated against the common infections in the country to which the traveling plans are being made. There are two big organizations that define the immunization requirements specific to different countries:
(1) The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) which is the National Public Health Institute of the United States of America and (2) The World Health Organization (WHO) which is associated with international public health.
The CDC and WHO have defined three priority levels for vaccination requirements:
1. Routine vaccinations – These are against the diseases that are common in most of the parts of the world. They are recommended to be taken everywhere, no matter where you are living or traveling. These include annual influenza shots, Hepatitis A and B, Meningococcal and PVC13 vaccine.
2. Recommended vaccinations – These are against the diseases that are specific to different countries, e.g. Typhoid is common in Brazil. Their administration is recommended when traveling to those countries. It is important to note that recommended vaccines for traveling to one country will be different from the vaccines recommended for traveling to another country. So, a physician must always be consulted before international travels.
3. Required vaccinations –The government of some countries require a proof of vaccination against some diseases that are specific to that area. For example, for traveling to specific countries in sub-Saharan Africa like The Gambia, Typhoid vaccination is recommended, but yellow fever vaccination is a requirement. The government doesn’t allow entry to the entry unless a proof of yellow fever vaccination is presented.
Vaccinations are always recommended to be administered 4 -6 weeks before the intended date travel date. The human body’s immune system takes some time to develop protection against the disease for which the vaccine is taken. It is advised to keep a record of your vaccination history. Certain vaccines like MMR and tetanus require a booster dose after a specific interval of time to keep your body protected against those diseases.
Vaccination for Children
Travel plans should be discussed with your family physician to discuss about the vaccination requirements for your children. At young age, children have not developed immunity against all the infections and they are more vulnerable as compared to adults. CDC recommends that normal vaccination schedule should be followed for traveling children also. However, depending on the country traveling, accelerated vaccination schedule should be considered instead for the routine vaccination.
Exemptions to Vaccinations
For travelers with reduced immunity, either because of some immune-suppressing disease or because of some immunosuppressive drugs, vaccination can be harmful. For such individuals, CDC recommends changing or modifying the travel plans to avoid countries with high risk of infectious diseases. It is also recommended to consult with a physician before traveling if the trip is unavoidable.
There is limited research data to show any link between vaccination and baby for pregnant women. However, CDC states that theoretically, live vaccines can be passed to the fetus from the mother in the first 28 days after vaccine administration. It is recommended to avoid traveling in the first trimester and the third trimester to prevent such complications.