The Travel Vaccine Guide

The Travel Vaccine Guide

Author Andrea Brookhart, PharmD, BCACP

Whether you’re traveling by plane, train or automobile, new places can expose you to all sorts of bugs you wouldn’t encounter at home. These illnesses often come in the form of the common cold or stomach viruses. However, if you’re traveling within the United States, it’s a great time to check that you’re up-to-date on all routine vaccines. Your pharmacist or other healthcare practitioner can always help you figure out whether you need any routine vaccines, no matter the season!

When you’re traveling internationally, there are often “travel vaccines” or non-routine vaccines recommended or required, depending on the destination. It’s important to think about the vaccines you may need as soon as you know you are traveling since many work best when administered in series, over a few months – so waiting until the last minute may leave you in a pinch!

How do I know which vaccines to receive for international travel?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, or CDC, is the authority on which vaccines to receive when leaving the United States. Anyone traveling should refer to their list of over 200 destinations to see which vaccines are required. Make sure you check the regulations for countries in which you have airport layovers, since you may have to comply with those countries’ requirements as well as those of your destination country. Often, your pharmacist or other healthcare practitioner can provide the vaccines you need.

What are the most common vaccines needed to travel?

Always make sure you’re up-to-date on routine vaccines including the annual flu vaccine, measles-mumps-rubella (MMR) vaccine, diphtheria-tetanus-pertussis vaccine, varicella (chickenpox) vaccine and polio vaccine.

Hepatitis A vaccine series is recommended for travel to common destinations, including the Caribbean, Mexico and some European countries.

Typhoid vaccine is recommended for travel to the Caribbean, Mexico and South American countries.

Other vaccines that may be needed for international destinations include hepatitis B, rabies, yellow fever and Japanese encephalitis vaccines.

What else do I need to know about vaccines and medicines for traveling internationally?

If you’re traveling somewhere where yellow fever vaccines are required, you’ll need official documentation that you’ve received the vaccine; therefore, yellow fever vaccines can only be administered by registered sites that provide this documentation.

You may require prescription medications in addition to vaccines, such as malaria prevention or traveler’s diarrhea treatment. The CDC travel resources identify those needs as well.

Lastly, for any travel, I recommend packing your own OTC travel kit to treat common aches, pains and ailments.

2021 Update: It’s unclear whether a COVID-19 vaccine will be needed to travel in the future. You can read more information about the COVID-19 vaccine and availability on our website.

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Disclaimer: This information is educational only and not providing healthcare recommendations. Please see a healthcare provider.