by Azra Behlim
Associate Vice President, Pharmacy Sourcing & Program Services
After more than two years of grappling with a global pandemic, Americans are transitioning back into society with more and more people returning to work, visiting extended family — and yes, even planning vacations. It's been a long while since most of us stepped outside of our local communities, let alone traveled outside of the United States. As restrictions ease, and traveling abroad becomes part of your itinerary, it is important to remember that your health and wellness is still a top priority. So, before you jet out the door, you'll want to consider what vaccines you'll need when traveling internationally.
Let's start with the obvious: COVID-19. Different countries have different requirements, and they are ever changing. You will want to make sure you are up to date with your COVID-19 vaccinations and are in alignment with your travel destination's requirements. It's also a good idea to keep an eye on the COVID-19 conditions in the country you're visiting, as well as any stopover destinations, and understand their respective entry and exit requirements. You should also verify the requirements for re-entry into the United States. Current U.S. guidelines require travelers to show a negative COVID-19 test result or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 before boarding the flight.
Of course, there may be other vaccines your travel destination requires or strongly recommends beyond COVID-19. You can find a list of required and recommended vaccines sorted by country on the CDC's Complete List of Destinations webpage. For example, Saudi Arabia requires the meningitis vaccine, whereas, in Thailand, you may be required to have the Yellow Fever vaccine, YF-Vax.
The vaccines required to enter a country can change if any outbreaks occur, so be sure to check the CDC's — and your destination's — websites again prior to your departure. It also is important to check the requirements for all countries where you may be stopping on your inbound and outbound journey.
When reviewing the list of recommended vaccines, think about the types of activities you are planning. For example, if taking scenic hikes and getting close to wildlife are on your itinerary, you should seriously consider getting vaccinated for dengue and yellow fever. While some vaccines may not be designated as required, there are several diseases that are more prominent worldwide than they are in the United States, so it's best for travelers to be prepared. When traveling to Brazil, for example, many people may not be aware that there were more than 1.5 million cases of dengue in 2019.
The most common travel vaccines recommended for any international travel are for typhoid, dengue, yellow fever and rabies. So, it still may be a good idea to knock out those vaccines before you pack your bags and take off for another country.
Now that you know where you're going and which vaccines are required and recommended for your destination, you'll want to schedule an appointment with your primary care physician and ensure they have the vaccines you need in stock at least a month before your departure. You also may choose to visit your local community pharmacy instead, as many retailers carry the needed vaccines regularly. It is advisable to get your vaccinations two to four weeks prior to your departure date to allow your body time to build immunity before you depart from the United States.
Finally, make sure to give yourself time to plan and prepare for your travel. The last thing any traveler wants is to miss a flight and a much-needed vacation.
About the author
Dr. Azra Behlim is the Associate Vice President of Pharmacy Sourcing & Program Services at Vizient. In her current role, she has responsibility for brand & specialty pharmaceuticals, vaccines, Rx technology, as well as all Pharmacy program services. She also leads the Vizient COVID-19 Vaccine Taskforce.
Behlim holds a Doctorate Degree in Pharmacy from Midwestern University and an MBA from the Lake Forest Graduate School of Management.