Ideally, you should see a doctor at least 4–6 weeks before travel, since many travel vaccines require multiple shots and take time to become fully effective. However, even if you are leaving soon, a visit to a travel medicine doctor is valuable. Some vaccines give partial protection after a single dose, and your doctor can counsel you on other ways you can reduce your risk of illness or injury.
Talk to your doctor about what vaccines you might need for your trip. Based on your destination and planned activities, you might need some, all, or none of the vaccines discussed in this section.
Tetanus, hepatitis A, typhoid, and polio are all single-dose vaccines. However, if you are leaving soon, your body might not have time to develop protection after the shot, so you should follow your doctor’s advice for reducing your risk of these diseases.
Yellow fever vaccine and meningococcal vaccine are also single-dose vaccines. Proof of yellow fever vaccination is required to enter many countries, and proof of meningococcal vaccine is required for people performing Hajj in Saudi Arabia. This proof is not valid until 10 days after you get the vaccine, so you may need to change your travel plans if you don’t get the vaccine soon enough.
Hepatitis B vaccine requires multiple doses but has an accelerated schedule (more doses given in a shorter period of time) that you may be able to complete before your trip. Japanese encephalitis and rabies vaccines require multiple doses and do not have accelerated schedules. If Japanese encephalitis vaccine is recommended and you cannot get all the doses, your doctor may recommend taking extra steps to avoid mosquito bites. If you cannot complete a full series of rabies vaccine, you should stay away from all animals and seek immediate medical care if you are bitten.
If there is a malaria risk in your destination, your doctor may prescribe pills to prevent malaria. Some of these drugs must be started 1–2 weeks before you leave, so if you’re leaving sooner, let your doctor know. Other drugs to prevent malaria need to be started only 1–2 days before you leave. Since none of the drugs is 100% effective, you will also need to take steps to avoid mosquito bites.
Not all diseases can be prevented with vaccines or pills. Your doctor will also talk to you about other precautions you should take, such as:
- Wearing insect repellent.
- Being careful about what you eat and drink.
- Staying away from animals.
- Avoiding injuries and being safe.
- Packing a travel health kit.
If you’re planning an international trip, don’t put off making an appointment with a travel medicine specialist. However, even if you’re leaving tomorrow, you should still go to the doctor to get the medicine and advice you need to help you have a safe and healthy trip.