You’ve booked your flight, are tying up loose ends at home and work, and are starting to gather your stuff for your trip to Africa. You’ve had a bunch of travel shots for other trips within the last few years (hopefully!), so more shots are not high on your “to do” list…that is, until some last minute googling reveals that a Yellow Fever shot may be one of the required vaccinations for your trip! This is a problem, since, until at least mid-2019, a last-minute Yellow Fever vaccine is often harder to find than a 6-leaf clover (or at least 5-leaf).
What makes a vaccine REQUIRED versus RECOMMENDED?
In our NYC Travel Medicine office, this question comes up almost daily.
A travel vaccination is REQUIRED if a country will not allow you to cross a border (or, on occasion, to participate in a specific event) without the vaccine. It does not necessarily mean that the shot is recommended by any organization, such as the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), though, most of the time a shot is required, it is also recommended for health reasons as well.
Three examples of REQUIRED vaccinations:
1) Traveling to Uganda, where Yellow Fever Vaccination is recommended to all travelers over 9 months of age, and then to South Africa, where the shot is required for entrance into the country. Here, it is required because you have just arrived from a country where there is a risk of coming down with Yellow Fever and South Africa has a policy, as many other countries do, that travelers arriving from such countries need the shot 10 days before trying to cross their border.
2) Visiting Pakistan (or other countries where Polio is circulating) for more than 4 weeks…a Polio booster is required between 4 weeks and 12 months before you are allowed to LEAVE the country.
3) Meningitis is a required vaccination if you are performing Hajj.
You can decide to avoid RECOMMENDED travel vaccinations (though that might not be good for your health!). If you take a pass on a REQUIRED travel vaccination, your trip may come to an abrupt end at a country’s border. Even letters providing medical reasons why you cannot get certain shots may not prevent your travel from being delayed or stopped entirely!
So, before you travel, consider having a Travel Medicine consultation with a Travel Medicine Professional to figure out which shots are recommended and which, if any, are required. Avoiding the first type of vaccination may be bad for your health…avoiding the second may also end your trip.
Have a great journey!