Vaccines & international travel

Forward planning and careful precautions can reduce the risks of health problems during your travel. Before travel, check with your doctor if any vaccinations are required for the areas you are travelling to. Try to do this 6 to 8 weeks before you leave, since some vaccination schedules need to be completed over a few weeks.

Routine immunisations

Before you travel, you should ensure that all your routine immunisations are up-to-date such as tetanus, measles, hepatitis B and polio vaccinations.

Measles

 A number of countries overseas continue to have measles outbreaks, including some countries in Europe, Asia (particularly the Philippines, Vietnam and China), Africa and India. Closer to home, there have been outbreaks in the Pacific in parts of Australia, Papua New Guinea, the Solomon Islands and the Federated States of Micronesia.

Before you travel, check if you have had 2 measles vaccinations.Babies and children may need measles vaccination earlier than usual. Measles vaccination is free for New Zealand residents who need it.

After you travel, call your doctor or Healthline on 0800 611 116 if anyone gets unwell within 3 weeks of returning from your trip. Read more about measles.

Hepatitis B

Hepatitis B is a viral infection that causes inflammation of the liver. Hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with blood or other body fluids of an infected person. The virus attacks the liver cells causing either short-term (acute) or long-term (chronic) hepatitis.

You are at increased risk of hepatitis B if you are:

  • unvaccinated  
  • travelling to regions with intermediate or high rates of hepatitis B  such as the Asia and the Pacific region. 
  • travelling for medical tourism.

Hepatitis B vaccine is currently part of the National Immunization schedule in New Zealand. You are likely to be unvaccinated if you were born in New Zealand before 1972. If you are unsure of your vaccination status, check with your GP.

Medical tourism refers to travelling overseas to specifically access medical treatment such as surgery or dental procedures, including immigrants returning to their home country for medical treatment. Medical services in some countries may not screen blood or blood products for some infections.

If you are at increased risk of hepatitis B, talk to your GP about getting hepatitis B vaccination before you travel. Complete vaccination usually requires 3 doses of vaccine over 6 months. However for rapid protection an accelerated schedule is available where 3 doses can be administered over 21 days (with a booster dose 12 months later). Talk to your doctor about this option. 
Read more about hepatitis B.

Tetanus

Tetanus occurs throughout the world, and international travel generally does not increase the risk. However, people who are doing humanitarian aid work, such as constructing or demolishing buildings, may be at higher risk. Anyone who is not vaccinated against tetanus is at risk if he or she is injured by a contaminated object, uses injection drugs, or has a medical procedure in an unhygienic setting. Read more about tetanus.

Unusual vaccines

Apart from the vaccines available in New Zealand, other unusual vaccines that may be required during travel include:

  • yellow fever vaccine
  • rabies vaccine
  • cholera vaccine
  • typhoid vaccine.

Immunisation requirements for travellers change from time to time. The following links provide advice for travel to different parts of the world:

References

  1. Travel consultation essentials: for departures and arrivals BPAC December 2015.
  2. International travel New Zealand Formulary, October 2016.
  3. Travelling Ministry of Health, New Zealand
  4. Hepatitis B vaccination for travellers Research Review Educational Series, 2017  
Credits: Editorial team. Last reviewed: 02 Aug 2017