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Travel vaccinations

5 min read

Australians are keen travellers, whether for pleasure, or business. Travel gives us an opportunity to experience other cultures, to reunite with family, and if on business, further our commercial objectives.

Get vaccinated before you travel

While many infectious diseases have been controlled in Australia due to widespread vaccination and other public health measures, this is not the case in many overseas countries.

Travelling can expose us to these diseases and other diseases that do not occur in Australia.

In rare cases these infections can be fatal.

You need to visit your doctor at least 6 weeks before you depart Australia to ensure the best protection from infections whilst travelling using immunisation.

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.

That's why it is important to protect yourself by making sure that you are vaccinated against diseases that you might encounter when travelling overseas.

What is vaccination?

Vaccination is a way of protecting ourselves against certain infections by exposing ourselves to small, safe, inactive doses of microbes that cause disease. This strengthens our body’s immune system against infection if we encounter the real disease in the future. 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 which can be taken to avoid infectious diseases while overseas. This might include measures to avoid consuming potentially contaminated water or food, and advice about your medications and your lifestyle while you are travelling.

You need to visit your doctor at least 6 weeks (and preferably 8 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 within a country can vary from one region to another and over time, and within each country there may be new outbreaks. New vaccines may be available and if it has been a while since your past vaccinations, you may need boosters. That's why it's 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
  • where you were born
  • your previous vaccinations
  • any past or present illnesses you may have, and your general health
  • your destination(s) and length of stay.

You may need one or more vaccines for diseases such as:

There may be other infections, unique to particular parts of the world, not covered in this list, that you need to consider getting vaccinated against. This is another important reason to see your doctor for expert advice 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’s 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. Also, depending on your age and where you were born, you may not be protected against some diseases such as measles or polio.

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 harmful than the risk of getting a disease because you were not vaccinated. However, in some cases, your doctor may advise against vaccination. For example, 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 be allergic to some part of a vaccine and may develop an allergic reactions to it. In very rare cases, they may have a severe allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This is a severe reaction, and can be life-threatening but can be treated if it happens. 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:

  • fever (temperature raised more than 38.5°Celcius)
  • pain and tenderness at the site of an injection
  • headache, nausea or tiredness
  • muscle or joint pain.

If you’re 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 (phone number below).

More information

Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm 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.

Last reviewed: October 2016

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