Travel vaccinations are an essential part of the gap year and travel planning process, yet every single day thousands of travellers ignore the advice of qualified professionals and don’t get them. But why? Are they really that important?
The short answer to that is yes. And here’s why.
Many backpackers and and gap year travellers head off to far flung, exotic destinations. After all that is half of the point, right? To explore somewhere new, to get out of our comfort zones and experience all the wonders and adventure the world has to offer us. There’s nothing wrong with that.
The problem is, travelling to these exotic destinations exposes us to ‘exotic’ diseases.
There’s no need to panic about this, it doesn’t mean that you are going to encounter some never before heard of alien virus or some tropical flesh eating zombie lurgy, it just means that you will encounter common diseases in the parts of the world you are travelling to that you are extremely unlikely – if ever – going to encounter at home.
This means that because you haven’t been exposed to these diseases naturally before, you will have little or no natural immunity to them. and that is why vaccines are important. The problem is because these diseases are not common in many Western countries they will not be offered routinely back as part of the normal vaccination schedule because it simply isn’t practical or cost effective.
The difference between routine and travel vaccinations.
This is where travel vaccinations come in. They simply act as reinforcements to your routine vaccination package, and provide you with protection from the diseases you are not yet protected from. It really is that simple.
Travel vaccinations are offered separately from routine vaccinations precisely because they are not routine. The exact vaccinations you will need depend on where you are going, how long for, your past medical history and a variety of other risk factors. It is a good idea to do some research and get a basic understanding of what you need from reputable sources, the National Travel Health Network and Centre (NaTHNaC) website or the Centre of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website are great resources. The NHS’ Fit For Travel is also an excellent site for travellers. This is no substitute for qualified advice however, and you will also have to make an appointment at a travel clinic to discuss your specific needs with a specialist nurse, or head to your GP or pharmacist who offer travel clinic services.
Travel vaccinations also come at a cost because they are not covered by routine vaccination programmes, and depending on how many you need, the costs can sometimes add up quickly.
It is this extra cost that puts a lot of travellers off getting them, and ‘they are too expensive’ is probably the most common excuse I hear in my own consultations with potential travellers as to why they are hesitant, but I urge each and every one of you to not let the cost influence your decision.
Consider the cost of vaccinations as part of the basic trip expenses alongside your plane ticket and your insurance.
You can’t put a price on your health.
It is a simple fact that many of these diseases such as yellow fever, typhoid and hepatitis A for example can not only ruin your trip but can have serious long term health complications and in some cases even pose a risk to your life!
The vaccinations exist to protect you from this risk, why would you endanger yourself for a little bit of money?
Now I’m not trying to scaremonger either, it is absolutely true that in the majority of cases the chances of getting some diseases can be quite low.
This is why medical and health professionals have a rigorous system for risk assessment and a grading system for each and every country. The terminology differs slightly depending on which country you come from, but they are always based on which vaccinations are very strongly advised for the diseases with a very high risk factor, the vaccinations that are sometimes recommended for those diseases with a variable risk dependent on individual factors, and those vaccinations which travellers may also consider for those diseases with a low chance of being contracted.
The exact vaccinations you will need for your gap year will differ from person to person. This is why it is essential to get a qualified opinion on your very specific travel plans and individual needs, because the risk does vary from traveller to traveller. To give just one basic example, someone heading to Singapore for a few days of shopping and then head to Sydney for a month or two will be at very low risk of rabies, but the next traveller who wants to go bat spotting in Singapore and then fly off to Bali for a few weeks will be at much higher risk.
The problem is when someone hears ‘low risk’, they assume ‘safe’, and that is not always true. Many travellers assume they can run the risk, not get any vaccinations and be fine.
And that may be true, they may very well be fine. There are of course plenty of people who are not vaccinated and don’t contract any diseases when travelling, the majority in fact. The problem is that the chances of getting certain diseases may be low, but the consequences if you are one of the unlucky ones who do contract certain diseases can potentially be very severe.
This is why protecting yourself with travel vaccinations seems like a no brainer. You buy insurance to protect your fancy new camera and your gear, why not pay to protect your health?
Of course it goes without saying that no one can force you to get yourself vaccinated. It is entirely up to you. As a qualified nurse I always try and give as much impartial and accurate information as I can, it is not up to me what you do with that information and I would never try and force someones decision one way or the other. However, I do urge you all to think very carefully before dismissing any qualified advice and recommendations on what vaccinations to get.
At the end of the day, they are considered an essential part of the travel planning process for a reason.
Did you enjoy this article or find it useful? Remember you can always make an appointment at my online travel clinic if you need any further advice on a one to one basis. I would love to hear your thoughts in the comments section below or on my Facebook or Twitter pages and please feel free to share it with any or all of the social media buttons. If you want to get more great backpacking tips, advice and inspiration, please subscribe to updates via email in the box to your right.