Approximately 60 million American households traveled in the past year—15%, or 9 million, of those to international destinations, according to travel research company, MMGY Global. As travelers prepare for their journeys, healthcare providers have the opportunity to remind them about appropriate travel vaccinations and provide information on destination-specific health risks. Particularly for international travelers, receiving the proper vaccinations helps ensure safe and healthy travels.
Staying Safe at Home and Abroad
With a spike in the number of measles outbreaks in the United States in recent years, providers can inform travelers about the importance of the measles, mumps, and rubella (MMR) vaccine. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), most domestic measles cases have been traced back to United States residents returning from international travel; the agency recommends the MMR vaccine for anyone planning to travel abroad.
However, the measles vaccine is not recommended for all patients, as per the CDC recommendations infants do not start receiving this vaccine until 1 year of age. Additionally, the CDC has guidelines about patients for whom specific vaccines may not be safe. Due to these gaps in vaccination coverage, the MMR vaccine is vital to help protect not only American patients traveling abroad, but also the vulnerable, unimmunized populations back home.
Gauging Risk and Exercising Precaution
In addition to measles and other ongoing threats, the CDC consistently monitors and updates country-specific outbreaks, as well as what vaccinations are suggested to enter certain regions. The agency has three levels of travel health notices: Watch Level 1, Practice Usual Precautions; Alert Level 2, Practice Enhanced Precautions; and Warning Level 3, Avoid Nonessential Travel. These are helpful guides that allow travelers and their providers to gauge the health risks involved with travel. For example, a May 2018 level two notice from the CDC warned of an ongoing outbreak of yellow fever in Brazil – a disease against which travelers can be immunized at least 10 days before they travel. With these online updates, patients and providers can review these warnings before patients depart, take necessary precautions, and keep an eye on them for updates while they are traveling.
Monitoring Updates On-the-go
Extended periods of travel may require more diligent monitoring of travel notices. Fortunately, helping patients connect with their health can be as easy as installing an app. The CDC offers a mobile application, TravWell, that “helps patients manage their medicines and immunizations, and allows them to set reminders for vaccine boosters while they are traveling.” The application’s information can be filtered by specific countries, provide travel recommendations from the CDC and phone numbers for emergency services in each destination, as well as generate to-do lists and packing lists.
Travel vaccinations, like other aspects of a good trip, take planning. According to the Department of Health and Human Services, it is safest to be vaccinated at least 4-6 weeks before travel to allow enough time for the vaccines to become effective. Additionally, by joining a vaccine buying group, physicians can gain access to travel vaccines that their patients can reasonably afford, as some insurance companies do not cover travel vaccines.
So, as the weather heats up, and as more travelers take the opportunity to see new places, providers can prepare to discuss the importance of travel vaccines and health safety issues with their patients.