It is important to protect yourself by making sure that you are vaccinated against diseases you might encounter when travelling overseas. Visit your doctor at least 6 and preferably 12 weeks before you leave Australia.
Why should I get vaccinated before I travel?
Travelling can expose you to these diseases and other diseases that do not occur in Australia.
In rare cases these infections can be fatal.
Pregnant women, babies and young children, the elderly as well as people with a weakened immune system (due to a medical condition or certain medicines) are especially at risk of infection when travelling.
What is vaccination?
Vaccination is a way to protect against certain infections through exposure to small, safe, inactive doses of microbes or toxins that cause disease. This causes the body's immune system to react against infection, so that if you contact the same organism in future the body can quickly produce antibodies against it. Vaccination is safe and effective and is especially important when travelling.
Some countries may require you to be vaccinated against certain diseases. If you do not have the required vaccinations, you may be refused entry or required to have the necessary vaccination(s) at the border. So talk to your doctor about any vaccines or boosters you may need to have before you travel.
Your doctor can also advise you on measures to avoid infectious diseases while overseas. This might include measures to avoid consuming potentially contaminated water or food, and advice about your medicines and your lifestyle while you are travelling.
You need to visit your doctor at least 6 weeks (and preferably 12 weeks) before you depart to give your immune system time to respond to any vaccination you need, and because some vaccines may need more than 1 injection.
What diseases should I be vaccinated against?
Health risks can vary from one region to another and over time, and there may be new outbreaks within each country. New vaccines may be available. If it has been a while since your past vaccinations, you may need boosters. That is why it is important that you visit your doctor well before your trip to discuss the vaccines you might need.
Your doctor will take into account factors such as:
- your age
- your vaccination history
- whether you are pregnant or planning a pregnancy
- any past or present illnesses you may have, and your general health
- the season of travel
- your destination(s), length of stay and type of travel
You may need one or more vaccines for diseases such as:
- hepatitis A and hepatitis B
- chickenpox (varicella)
- yellow fever
- tuberculosis (TB)
- meningococcal disease
- Japanese encephalitis
- influenza (flu)
There may be other infections, unique to particular parts of the world, that are not covered in this list. Your doctor can advise you of any other vaccinations you may need to consider before you travel.
What if you have been vaccinated against these diseases in the past?
You should still check with your doctor if you need these vaccinations. That is because, even if you have been vaccinated against these diseases, your immunity to some diseases may have changed or reduced with time and you may need a booster.
Are vaccines safe?
Vaccines used in Australia are approved for use by the Therapeutic Goods Administration after a stringent safety testing process. Overall, the chance that a vaccine will cause serious harm is extremely small. Being vaccinated is far less risky than the risk of getting a disease because you were not vaccinated. However, in some cases, your doctor may advise against vaccination. For example, this may happen if you have a weakened immune system due to another infection, or if you are taking medicines to suppress your immune system.
Very infrequently, a person may develop an allergic reaction to a vaccine. In very rare cases, a person may have a severe allergic reaction called an anaphylaxis. This can be life-threatening, but can be treated. So always let your doctor know if you have any allergies, or have had any reactions to a vaccine in the past.
The Australasian Society of Clinical Immunology and Allergy recommends that for a severe allergic reaction, adrenaline is the initial treatment. When giving a vaccination, your doctor will have all the safety measures such as adrenalin available to use if needed. For further information, visit the Choosing Wisely Australia website.
What are the side effects of vaccinations?
All medicines, including vaccines, may have side effects. In the case of vaccines, side effects are very minor and usually go away within a few days. Common side effects are:
- pain and tenderness at the site of an injection
- headache, nausea or tiredness
- muscle or joint pain
If you are concerned that you have had side effects related to a vaccine, see your doctor. You can also report and discuss possible side effects, by calling the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237.
Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday to Sunday, 8am–8pm AEST.
For more information on travel health visit the Department of Health website.
For information about vaccine side effects and safety visit the following websites:
Travelling with medicines and medical devices
Watch this video from the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to learn what you need to do when preparing for your trip, including things you should discuss with your doctor.
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Last reviewed: April 2021