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Your Best Shot for Travel Vaccinations

By Beverly Ann D’Cruz

Vacation planning is exciting, but long before your suitcase is packed it’s important to research any health risks you may encounter abroad. “Travel risk varies depending on a number of different factors,” says Kim Henke, a pharmacist and certified travel health provider at Remedy’sRx Bearspaw Family Pharmacy in Edmonton. “Knowing those factors and preventative measures allows travelers to minimize their risks.”

Here is a quick rundown on how to ensure you’re safe before you step off the plane.

Travellers should start looking into the type of inoculations and medications they need at least six to eight weeks prior to travel. “Some vaccines, such as the hepatitis A vaccine start working right away,” Henke says. “But many take two or more weeks to take effect, so ideally, you should see a healthcare provider at least four weeks prior to travel. There may be options for getting the vaccines and medicines you need, even if you’re a last-minute traveller.”

First, Henke says to ensure that all your routine immunizations are up to date—everything from measles and polio to varicella (chickenpox/shingles) and the tetanus and diphtheria vaccine, as well as those given for previous travel that might just require a booster. Then, she advises that you book an appointment with a certified travel health provider. That person will not only be able to provide consultation and on-site vaccines, but also a wealth of information on what you should pack and how to avoid unnecessary risk.

Keep in mind that the risk of illness while abroad for seniors, children and pregnant women may be higher than for the average traveller. Some diseases, like malaria or the Zika virus, can be more serious for expecting mothers, and not all vaccines are safe to be given during pregnancy.

Common travel viruses and how to protect yourself

For older travellers, “they may have medical conditions that are important to consider before and during travel, and might require additional or more specific advice,” Henke says. “As a pharmacist, I can help plan for travelling abroad with prescription or over-the-counter medications, and give advice on adjusting your medication to your new time zone.”

Diarrhea is the most common ailment for children, who are more sensitive to food- and water-borne illnesses.

Are you going backpacking across Europe? Taking a train through Asia? Staying on a resort in Cuba? “Vaccinations can be recommended depending on the type, destination and length of travel,” Henke explains. Important factors, discussed at your consultation, include:

• Your age, health history and whether your routine immunizations are up to date
• The time of the year and season you’ll be travelling and duration of travel
• Whether you’re staying in an urban or rural area
• What kind of activities you’ll be doing

Straight answers about travel medical insurance from AMA

Some countries require travellers to have proof of certain vaccinations. For example, yellow fever certification is mandatory for 34 countries in Africa and 13 countries in Central and South America. “The most common vaccines for travellers are: hepatitis A, hepatitis B, typhoid fever and cholera,” Henke says. “Medications to prevent malaria are recommended for certain areas, and Japanese encephalitis is recommended for some travellers to Asia.” Check the Government of Canada’s extensive list of vaccines based on destinations, including potential illnesses and travel advisories.

Don’t rely on buying first aid supplies or medications at your destination, as they may not be available worldwide or differ to what is offered in Canada. Refer to the Public Health Agency of Canada’s website for a list of basic items. Henke also recommends carrying an up-to-date immunization record or even a picture of the record on a phone, as well as a current medication list if applicable, in case of emergency. Then, once you’re fully prepped, you can relax and enjoy your vacation.

AMA members save 50% on travel-vaccination consultation fees and $15 off travel injection fees at Remedy’sRx.

Peace of mind while abroad is priceless. Make sure insurance from AMA Travel is also on your pre-vacation checklist.