Jim was in the office asking questions, ” Are you kidding me?”
“Nope, how long have I known you Jim? If your new job promotion includes traveling abroad you need to get some vaccines. I suggest you start now, even before you know your assignments.”
“That’s crazy, why would I get my vaccines before I know exactly where I will be assigned to go? Shouldn’t I wait and see where I go?”
I knew what he was thinking. I’d heard it before. Truth is, it’s a rather good idea to start vaccines before you know where you will be going. Many adults are surprised to learn their children are far better protected with immunizations than they are.
“Most business travelers leave quickly, often with less than 2 weeks notice. You hear a rumor that you may be headed to Sao Paulo, Brazil… but your boss is not sure. You wait. Finally the OK comes and the corporate travel office sends you the tickets a week before departure.
Oops, now there is not enough time to get the vaccines you might need. You see, most vaccines take about 2-4 weeks to become fully protective. This is where the travel department is out of synch with modern medical practice.”
Like most of the business travelers I see, Jim asked for a few minutes to think things over.
When should international business travelers get their vaccines?
This where Jim had it right. He is following the CDC guidelines by visiting me, his travel medicine specialist, at least 4-6 weeks in advance.
This recommendation allows you to receive the proper immunizations and be fully protected before you leave. If you know you will be traveling somewhere, but the plans are not finalized yet you can at least get the basic shots, and then add any destination specific travel vaccines as needed.
If you go to your travel doctor with less than 4 weeks prior to travel, you can still get caught up on your adult vaccines at your visit and discuss strategies for prevention of illness. However, this does leave you in the precarious position of not being as well protected, as you would be if you visited 4 weeks or more prior to departure.
Many people are not aware that you are likely to need a few booster shots since it takes up to 6 months to complete both of the hepatitis series.
Which vaccines do business travelers really need?
You will need to check with your doctor about recommendations specific to you. Most adults are a little behind on their routine immunizations.
You may need any or all of the following common adult vaccines:
- Tdap has protection for both tetanus and whooping cough.
- Pneumonia is recommended for people who smoke, are over age 65, or have other medical conditions such as diabetes and asthma.
- MMR, many adults need a booster. With all the terrible outbreaks in Europe, it would be wise to be protected.
- Flu, this annual scourge ruins more trips than any other preventable infection.
- Hepatitis B, recommend for people with diabetes, for frequent travelers and people with more than one sexual partner per year.
- Hepatitis A, recommended for almost all travelers.
All of the above vaccines are routine vaccines nowadays for children living in the USA; they just weren’t available when you were growing up.
If you know you are traveling to a resource poor area, even if you are staying at a Western-style hotel, you should consider adding the Typhoid vaccine.
There are other vaccines for specific destinations under specific conditions such as Japanese encephalitis, meningitis, rabies, etc. It’s best to discuss these with a travel medicine specialist before choosing them.
What are the bare minimum vaccines needed?
The bare minimum vaccines recommended by the CDC are listed above. Since everyone has different underlying health problems, you should check with your own health care practitioner for advice specific to you.
Can travelers accidentally transmit diseases to your family?
Yes, and this is probably the most compelling reason to get protected with vaccines. Often you become contagious 2 days prior to coming down with symptoms. So, not only will you be sick if you bring home these common ailments, but you will transmit them to your loved ones too. You will feel terrible if you spread these diseases to a friend or relative. Fortunately, your vaccinations will not make your healthy family members sick.
What about last minute change in plans?
Travel is fraught with unplanned changes. A sudden change in destination should be discussed with your doctor since you may need more preventative care. The vaccines listed above are routine adult vaccines, ones you need anyway, so you don’t need to worry if your plans are cancelled. As a bonus, you are protected for future trips.
Crazy as it seems, getting vaccinated prior to knowing where you will be traveling is a good idea.
In fact, this is exactly what the military does for their troops. They provide a backbone of basic vaccines for everyone who is likely to be deployed. Each division then gets specific shots depending upon the area of the world where they may be assigned and their specific duties there. This way, the lack of medical protection does not need to factor into the strategic goals of the unit.
Use military tactics to prepare your workforce
Many human resources departments are adopting this strategy too. This works well since most adults are behind on their standard vaccines–this gives an opportunity to catch up. Additionally, having the Hepatitis A & B vaccines along with the typhoid vaccine makes you worldwide ready and ready to deploy on short notice for most destinations.
Jim decided to get started catching up on his vaccines. With about one week notice he was sent to Shanghai and Beijing. He felt confident he was protected as he headed out to meet new business associates. I am looking forward to hear how things are going when he comes back in for his hepatitis booster shots.
Share your thoughts in the comments below. How do you choose vaccines for business travel? Are you current with your adult vaccines?