You might think travel vaccines are meant to prevent only rare, foreign diseases. But contagious diseases like measles are still common in some areas of the world. If you were born in 1957 or later, and aren’t up to date on your measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine, you could become ill with measles—and contagious to others who aren’t immune—both during your time abroad and after you’ve returned home. (People born before 1957 are presumed to be immune.) A May 2017 Annals of Internal Medicine study found that 53 percent of people traveling abroad who were eligible to receive the MMR vaccine didn’t get immunized before their trip. And an estimated 48 percent of those eligible for the vaccine refused it because they weren’t concerned about acquiring measles.
Schedule a visit with your doctor for a pre-travel health consultation at least four to six weeks before your trip. Some vaccinations require a series of doses over weeks to months to build up immunity. Side effects vary for each vaccination, ranging from irritation at the injection site to an allergic reaction, so discuss the risks and benefits of any vaccine with your doctor. Some vaccines may not be advised for pregnant women or individuals with a weakened immune system. Travel vaccines can be costly, too—and many aren’t covered by insurers and Medicare.
This article first appeared in the May 2018 issue of UC Berkeley Health After 50.
Also see6 Misperceptions About Travel Health.