Understanding travel vaccinations

What you need to know to keep yourself and others safe while you travel.

A photo of a map with scrabble letters on it that spell out travel safe.  The photo also includes a smartphone and a passport.
Photo: Pexels/Leeloo TheFirst

With travel ramping up across the country and world, understanding how to stay safe is essential. Save yourself the headache at the airport by learning what vaccinations are required for entry ahead of time to best enjoy your travels.

What are Travel Vaccines?

Travel vaccines are vaccinations that are given to protect travelers from diseases that may be rare in the country they live in, but a concern for the places they are going. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “vaccines use your body’s natural defenses to build resistance to specific infections that make your immune system stronger.” The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) lists 16 main travel vaccinations that you may need to get for the first time or as boosters before traveling. Example vaccines the CDC identified:

  • COVID-19
  • Chickenpox
  • Cholera
  • Flu (Influenza)
  • Hepatitis A
  • Hepatitis B
  • Japanese encephalitis
  • MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)
  • Meningococcal
  • Pneumococcal
  • Polio
  • Rabies
  • Shingles
  • Tdap (Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis)
  • Typhoid
  • Yellow fever

When to Get Travel Vaccines?

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services recommends getting, “vaccinated at least 4 to 6 weeks before you travel. This will give the vaccines enough time to provide full protection while you’re traveling. It also helps to make sure there’s enough time for you to get vaccines that require more than one dose.”  Plan ahead for your trip and identify an ideal window of dates to get vaccinated. Then, call ahead and schedule vaccinations with your primary care doctor or at a clinic.

To know which vaccines are required and recommended for the location(s) of your trip, use the CDC’s Travel Toolkit to search by location for the complete list of vaccines to ask your doctor about before traveling. The toolkit also discusses non-vaccine preventable diseases that you might encounter at your destination country and ways to avoid them. 

Where to Find Travel Vaccines

It is widely recommended that you talk to your doctor about what travel vaccines you should get. Some primary care offices may offer the vaccinations themselves. You can also often find the vaccines you are looking for at local health departments, yellow fever vaccination clinics, and specific travel clinics. You can go to Vaccines.gov to locate a clinic near you.

If you would like to learn more about vaccines, check out Michigan State University Extension’s partnership with the Michigan Vaccine Project to find links to event schedules, podcasts, publications, webinars, and videos related to vaccine education at https://www.canr.msu.edu/vaccineeducation/.

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