If you’re travelling to a foreign land, you’re exposing yourself to a host of new organisms that thrive in different environments around the world. Getting vaccinated should be one of your most important considerations, and you should start getting your shots at least four to six weeks before departure to produce enough immunity from the given vaccine. (Remember that some vaccines may require more than one dose.)
There are several vaccinations that are generally recommended for going abroad, whilst some others are required when traveling to specific countries. The World Health Organization and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that all travelers keep up-to-date with the routine schedule of childhood vaccinations and booster shots. Routine vaccines include the Mumps-Measles-Rubella (MMR) shot; the Diphtheria-Pertussis-Tetanus (DPT) shot; polio; varicella (chicken pox) and flu vaccines. The probability of exposure to some of these diseases may be greater while traveling overseas.
In the case of MMR, three contagious viral diseases that can be transmitted through respiratory droplets (or any direct contact with the saliva of an infected person), it is currently recommended that children receive two doses of the MMR vaccine, the first at the age of one, and the second at 4–6 years old. If you’re planning to travel with a child, the second dose may be given at an earlier age—provided the interval between the first and second dose is at least four weeks. Teens (and adults) who show no evidence of immunity against measles should get two MMR doses at least four weeks apart. Recommended vaccines for travelers should be based on the following:
- Vaccines already given based on previous immunization history
- Underlying medical conditions of the traveler
- Potential threats at the travel destination
- Activities planned during travel
- Length of travel abroad
- Amount of time available before departure
All travelers should consider the influenza vaccine, especially if they are traveling during the influenza season of the destination region(s). The influenza vaccine is particularly relevant if influenza epidemics are occurring at the destination(s), and for travelers in large tourist groups—especially those that include older persons, or when traveling on cruises where they are likely to be in confined circumstances for days or weeks.
If previous immunization records cannot be obtained, an age-appropriate vaccination schedule must be started.
Yellow fever vaccine is the only vaccine required by the International Health Regulations for travel to Equatorial South America and areas approximately 15° on either side of the equator in sub-Saharan Africa.
Recommended vaccines for travel-related exposures are given to protect travelers from vaccine-preventable diseases which may be present in other countries. It is also given to prevent importation and spread of such diseases across international borders.
Here is the list of recommended vaccines for travel-related exposures, especially here in Vietnam:
- Hepatitis A—spread through consuming contaminated food and water or person to person via the fecal-oral route. Risk is higher where personal hygiene and sanitation are poor.
- Hepatitis B—spread through infected blood/ blood products, contaminated needles, medical instruments and sexual intercourse. Risk is higher for those at occupational risk, long stays or frequent travel, children (exposed through cuts and scratches) and individuals who may need, or request, surgical procedures abroad.
- Japanese encephalitis—spread through the bite of an infected mosquito. This mosquito breeds in rice paddies and mainly bites between dusk and dawn. The risk is higher for long-stay travelers in rural areas, particularly if unable to avoid mosquito bites.
- Rabies—spread through the saliva of an infected animal, usually through a bite, scratch or lick on broken skin. Particularly dogs and related species, but also monkeys. The risk is higher for those going to remote areas (who may not be able to promptly access appropriate treatment in the event of a bite). Even when pre-exposure vaccine has been received, urgent medical advice should be sought after any animal or monkey bites.
- Typhoid—spread mainly through consumption of contaminated food and drink. The risk is higher where access to adequate sanitation and safe water is limited.
- Dengue fever, a mosquito-borne illness, is endemic in Vietnam. There are no medications that you can take to prevent dengue fever, therefore, travelers are advised to take appropriate precautions to avoid mosquito bites, such as using insect repellents, covering up and using mosquito nets, and to seek early medical advice if they begin to experience symptoms of the virus.
Some travelers may require booster shots if some time has passed since their last vaccination or for a number of other reasons. We advise both travelers and those living long-term in Vietnam to consult with our doctors if there is any concern or question about required boosters.
While vaccines can help prevent you from contracting some serious diseases, they are not going to shield you against all bacteria that you come across in a new country. And since you’ll be exposed to things that you aren’t used to, we advise you to always remember to be careful.
Dr. Elvie Joy Atanque-Basa
A native of the Philippines from Roxas City (known as the nation’s seafood capital), Dr. Elvie has accumulated wide experience as a general practitioner and pediatrician in the decade since graduating from the University of Visayas Gullas College of Medicine in Cebu. Before she began her medical training in 2004, she was already a licensed pharmacist—which provided an early grounding in the hospital environments and career in healthcare that she would go on to pursue.
Dr. Elvie’s optimistic and enthusiastic nature equips her with the superb interpersonal skills essential to working in pediatrics—while her sense of discipline and strong tendency toward investigative and critical thinking position her as a capable leader and willing student of new technologies in the practice of medicine. She is a dedicated, compassionate and creative professional whose analytical approach and professional competence make her a fine addition to the Family Medical Practice family in Danang.