Travel Vaccines 101

Globetrotting physician Erik McLaughlin, M.D., explains what to know before you go.

As a travel medicine doctor, I am often asked about what vaccines are required for which countries. When it comes to travel health, we divide vaccines into three categories: required, routine, and recommended.

Required vaccines are specifically required for entry or exit of specific countries. Routine vaccines are those commonly received in childhood. Recommended vaccines are specific to the area of travel and designed to lessen the risk of disease or infection.

So do you need a shot before you go? Yes and no.

Required Vaccines

  • Yellow fever: a viral illness spread by mosquitoes, producing symptoms that include fever, fatigue, yellowing of skin, myalgias, and rash. A traveler headed to a region that has reported outbreaks of yellow fever may be required to show proof of vaccination in the past 10 years at an approved yellow fever vaccine center. That proof typically is an official World Health Organization Yellow Card.
  • Meningitis: a bacterial infection of the tissues that surround the brain and spinal cord, spread through person-to-person contact. Some countries require proof of vaccination.