What is a vaccine and why do I need it?
Australians love to travel. While many diseases have been controlled or eliminated in Australia, some countries we choose to visit can pose a threat to our health.
A vaccine is a dead or weakened version of a virus or bacteria that is introduced into the body. It prepares your immune system to fight and overcome the disease if you become infected with it in the future.
Most Australian travellers will need to be vaccinated, particularly the young, the elderly, pregnant women and those with chronic health conditions. The types of vaccines you need will depend on the overseas destinations you are planning to visit.
While Medicare covers the consultation fees for your vaccination, it does not cover the vaccines themselves other than those for non-travel-related purposes (eg, influenza shots).
If you travel frequently, you may want to look into private health insurance that includes cover for travel vaccinations as part of your extras cover. For example, ahm Super Extras covers up to $60 for each item above the general patient PBS amount.
Vaccination costs vary depending on the type of vaccine and the administrator. Single vaccines can range from $45 to $85 each, with new vaccines costing more. You may need follow-up doses, which is why it is important to get your vaccinations at least six to eight weeks before you plan to travel.
The types of vaccines you need depends on a number of factors:
- Where you are going
- How long you will be travelling
- The season you will be travelling
- Where you will be staying
- What you will be eating
- Your age and general health
The diseases you are most likely to encounter when travelling in developing countries or tropical regions include:
- Cholera. Cholera is a bacterial infection that causes severe diarrhoea, vomiting and dehydration. It can also be fatal. Cholera vaccine is a liquid taken orally in two doses one and six weeks apart.
- Hepatitis A. Hepatitis A is a virus that causes liver disease. Vaccination involves two injections at least two weeks prior to travelling.
- Hepatitis B. Hepatitis B is a virus that causes liver disease and cancer. Vaccination consists of three injections over the course of a month.
- Japanese encephalitis. Japanese encephalitis is a virus transmitted by mosquitoes that causes swelling of the brain, convulsions and coma. The vaccine is a course of three injections over four weeks.
- Meningococcal meningitis. Meningococcal meningitis is a bacterial infection that causes thinning of the lining around the brain and spinal cord. Vaccination involves a single injection before travelling.
- Rabies. Rabies is a virus that is transferred by animal bites and scratches, which causes inflammation of the brain and spinal cord. Vaccination is three injections over the course of a month.
- Typhoid. Typhoid is a bacterial infection that causes extreme fever, headache and diarrhoea. The vaccine is a single injection or three capsules taken two days apart.
- Yellow fever. Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne virus that causes bleeding, jaundice, and kidney and liver failure. The vaccine is a single injection given at least 10 days prior to travel.
- Malaria. Malaria is an infection transmitted by mosquitoes that causes fever, headache, vomiting and disruption of the blood supply to vital organs. There is no vaccine, so you should take preventative measure to avoid mosquito bites.
Because local destinations in South East Asia and the South Pacific cost less for Australians to visit, countries where we require vaccinations can include:
- Indonesia. Vaccinations are essential for visitors to Indonesia and Bali. Recommended vaccines include Hepatitis A and B, influenza and typhoid. Rabies, Japanese encephalitis and cholera vaccination may also be required for higher risk travellers.
- Thailand. While most of Thailand is low risk, vaccinations for Hepatitis A and B, typhoid and influenza are recommended.
- India. A high-risk location with vaccinations recommended for many of the main diseases, including rabies and Japanese encephalitis.
- Vietnam. Vaccination for common diseases such as Hepatitis A and B, typhoid and influenza are recommended and also Japanese encephalitis with certain travel itineraries.
- Cambodia. Cambodia is a medium-risk location with vaccinations recommended for common diseases such as Hepatitis A and B, typhoid and influenza plus Japanese encephalitis for higher risk travellers.
- China. Vaccination is recommended for Hepatitis A, influenza and possibly typhoid, plus rabies, Japanese and tick-borne encephalitis, and cholera, depending on the time of year and the parts of China you're visiting.
- Fiji. Some vaccinations are recommended for those heading to Fiji including Hepatitis A and B and influenza, plus typhoid for visitors to some of the more remote islands.
Even though the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) approves all vaccines used in Australia, there is always a small possibility of side effects occurring in some travellers for whom vaccines may not be appropriate.
These can include people with weakened immune systems due to infection, those taking medicines to suppress their immune system and people who are allergic to particular types of vaccines or any of their ingredients.
Generally, any side effects experienced from vaccination are very minor and short-lived. Symptoms may include mild fever, tenderness at the site of an injection, headache, nausea, tiredness and muscle or joint pain.