Vaccines and international travel

Good planning and taking care of yourself can reduce the risks of health problems during your travel. Before travel, check with your doctor if any vaccinations are needed for the areas you are travelling to. Try to do this 6 to 8 weeks before you leave, as some vaccinations need to be done over a few weeks.

Routine immunisations

Before you travel, you should check that all your routine immunisations are up-to-date such as measles, hepatitis B, tetanus, pertussis (whooping cough) and polio vaccinations.

Measles

Many other countries still have measles outbreaks, including some countries in Europe, Asia (Philippines, Vietnam and China), Africa and India. There have also 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 two measles vaccinations. Babies and children who are travelling may need to have their 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 affects the liver. Hepatitis B virus is spread through contact with blood or other body fluids of an infected person. The virus attacks the liver causing hepatitis.
You are at increased risk of hepatitis B if you are:

  • unvaccinated
  • travelling to areas with higher rates of hepatitis B in parts of Asia and the Pacific
  • travelling for medical reasons –travelling to another country for medical treatment such as surgery or dental work. This includes people going back to their home country for medical treatment. This increases your risk because medical services in some countries may not check blood or blood products for some infections.

Hepatitis B vaccine is part of the National Immunisation schedule in New Zealand. You may not be vaccinated if you were born in New Zealand before 1972. If you are unsure about your vaccination status, check with your GP.

If you are at increased risk of hepatitis B, talk to your GP about getting hepatitis B vaccination before you travel. You will need 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 if you need it.
 Read more about hepatitis B.

Tetanus

Tetanus occurs all around the world, and international travel does not usually increase the risk. However, people who are doing aid work, such as building or demolishing buildings, may be at higher risk. Anyone who is not vaccinated against tetanus is at risk they are injured by a contaminated object, uses injection drugs, or has a medical procedure with poor hygiene. A booster vaccine that is combined with diphtheria and pertussis (whooping cough) may be advised before travel. 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 for travellers change from time to time. The following links provide advice for travel to different parts of the world:

Where can I get vaccinated?

The best place to go for vaccinations is your family medical clinic. They have your medical records and can check to see if you’ve already had a particular vaccination. Either your doctor or a nurse can give the vaccination.

If you don’t have a family doctor, you can go to one of the after-hour medical clinics. Ring them first to make sure they can help you with the vaccination you need.

You can find a clinic near you on the Healthpoint website. Put in your address and region, and under Select a service, click on GPs/Accident & Urgent Medical Care.

Vaccines on the National Immunisation Schedule are free. Other vaccines are funded only for people at particular risk of disease. You can choose to pay for vaccines that you are not eligible to receive for free.

References

  1. Travel consultation essentials: for departures and arrival 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. Reviewed By: Angela Lambie, Pharmacist, Auckland Last reviewed: 13 Dec 2017