Vaccinations (and by extension, needles) are probably the last thing on travellers’ minds when planning their dream vacation. But immunization, while a contentious issue for some, is simply based on the idea of prevention. It’s easier to think of getting vaccinated as an investment that minimizes the potential health risks one can encounter while travelling. As travellers, it’s our responsibility to maintain an immunization schedule the same way we include travel insurance as an essential part of our trip plans.

The fact remains that travelling outside of your home country exposes you to the risk of contact with vaccine-preventable diseases. In 2017 alone, health advisories have been issued to Canadian travellers for yellow fever in Brazil; Zika virus in Mexico, the Caribbean, and Central and South Americas; polio in Africa, Central Asia and Southeast Asia; and avian flu (H7N9) in China.

Of course, all this depends on where you plan to travel and what you plan on doing while you travel, but vacationers should keep in mind too, that risk is dependent on individual health. Your best plan of action would be to consult a health care professional before your trip for a personal medical assessment.

Tip: Vaccinations you will require not only depend on your destination or activities, but also your age, sex, pre-existing medical conditions, immunization history and current state of health. It’s best to give as much information as you can so that you can receive a proper assessment.

Pre-travel research

Although prevention through immunization is your best shield against disease, a bit of prior knowledge on the subject can be your best weapon. Before you leave the country or before you even stop by a travel medical clinic to get vaccinated, try to do a bit of research on your destination(s), specifically keeping in mind the activities you have planned. Remember that travel advisories are just as important to check and double-check as your planned trip itineraries.

twitter tweet cdc travel zika advisory social media
Keep up-to-date with travel health advisories via social media from reputable authorities like the Health Canada, CDC and WHO

While doing your research, ask yourself, “Are there current or recent health notices and advisories circulating in those areas?” Below are a few resources for Canadian travellers to get you started.

Online tools & resources

Travel health notices – a list of up-to-date potential health risks for travellers, maintained by the Public Health Agency of Canada

Vaccination recommendations by destination – a database of geography-specific vaccination requirements; users can select the destination country from a dropdown list

List of common diseases – a glossary of commonly encountered travel-related diseases; each disease listed has its own profile that provides users with more in-depth information

TuGo Travel Advisories – we provide up-to-date information on geography-specific advisories, including health, natural disasters, safety issues, and entry/exit requirements

Tip: It may also be worth checking out local websites in your destination country, provided that they offer information in your preferred language, as well as social media and blogs for any timely accounts. Check out these travel tips and apps to help you do research like a local.

Travel clinics & immunization tips

Once you’ve gathered enough information on your own and thought of questions you’d like to ask a health care provider, make an appointment for a pre-travel health assessment with your family doctor or your local travel clinic. Travel health services are available in most communities, and in many cases, even on a drop-in basis at pharmacies.

This isn’t something you leave until the last minute! Instead, try to visit a clinic at least six weeks before your scheduled departure. This is recommended for several reasons:

  • It can take at least a week after vaccination for the human body to develop antibodies that are necessary to start the immunity process
  • Some vaccines are administered in more than one dose and will require multiple visits on your part
  • Some vaccines can’t be administered at the same time as others
  • Clinic schedules can fill up quickly, especially as the peak travel season comes around

It’s also important to inquire about the costs of vaccination beforehand. Many travel vaccines are not covered by provincial health plans in Canada, so budget your finances accordingly and file them as part of your travel costs. Some professionals recommend obtaining a prescription from your family doctor, purchasing the vaccine, then having it administered at a designated pharmacy to save on costs.

List of Common Vaccinations for Canadian Travellers*

Routine Immunizations

  • Hepatitis B
  • Measles, mumps and rubella
  • Varicella
  • Pertussis (adults)
  • Poliomyelitis or polio (adults)
  • Tetanus and diphtheria (adults)

Required (for entry into specific countries)

Recommended

  • Hepatitis A
  • Influenza
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • Meningococcal
  • Rabies
  • Typhoid
  • Bacille Calmette-Guerin (BCG)
  • Cholera and traveller’s diarrhea

Tip: There are no approved vaccines for some illnesses in Canada, such as malaria or dengue fever. In this case, when travelling to certain tropical or subtropical locations, make sure to prevent mosquito bites by protecting exposed areas of your skin with insect repellent and using mosquito nets.

Maintaining healthy travel during your trip

As any conscientious traveller would expect, it doesn’t stop once you’ve reached your destination. External factors such as environment and climate, length of stay, activities you engage in and other conditions can all affect risk factors to you while abroad. That’s why having a general-purpose emergency travel kit can go a long way in ensuring your wellbeing and peace of mind.

Common things found in these kits may consist of mosquito nets, insect repellent, sunscreen, antibacterial solutions, water purification filters or tablets, various first aid instruments, assorted medication (e.g. pain and fever, anti-diarrhea, saline eye drops, etc.), proof of travel insurance coverage, and, if necessary, an International Certificate of Vaccination (Prophylaxis)—as in the case of yellow fever for entry into certain countries.

emergency health travel kit
Emergency travel kits should always be packed in your luggage

Canadian travellers ought to keep in mind that health and hygiene standards, as well as medical care practices and disease control measures in other countries can vary greatly, so some caution should be exercised (in some developing countries, you may even need to insist on private hospital care). Obtaining medication abroad might not be as easy as your experiences in Canada, so be wary of that, too.

Tip: It’s good practice to be considerate of other travellers who are on their vacation; if you’re ill with one of the things mentioned above, you should probably reconsider taking your trip at the time, so as not to risk spreading illnesses while abroad.

Preventing disease through immunization is not only something that should be done in your childhood and simply forgotten about. As adults, proper assessment and maintenance of immunization records are necessary. Like other preventive medicine, travel vaccination as a precautionary measure is often worth the time and effort in helping promote better travel wellbeing (and no microscopic misfortunes).

Do you have any other useful tips to share? Or maybe some horror stories and precautionary tales? Share them with us and other travellers below!

Healthy travels,

Justin

* Maintained by the Public Health Agency of Canada; current as of May 2017