Travel Vaccinations in Seniors

Travelling is an exciting time and it has become easier and more popular than ever before. If retirement is on the cards this means more time to travel and explore the world. However, its not so exciting if you get sick! Seniors are at highest risk of disease because as we age our immune system declines and we are more at risk of infection. This doesn’t mean you shouldn’t book your dream trip however. You just need to be prepared, think ahead and start planning to prevent illness when travelling.

Pre-travel Visit

All senior travellers should see their GP for a pre-travel check up about 6 – 8 weeks prior to their travels.  Your doctor will decide what vaccinations and medicine is required for your trip, depending on your destination. Some vaccines take time to work or you may require several vaccinations over a period of time so make sure you plan ahead.

Consider physical fitness and limitations when planning a trip. For example,  if you have severe knee arthritis a hiking trip in the French alps might not be wise! If seniors have pre-exisiting conditions and are on prescribed medications your doctor can write a letter with a list of medications you are on to take with you. This should help avoid any issues at customs.  Make sure you pack enough medication for the duration of your trip and a little extra just in case there are any delays.  Travel insurance is essential and your doctor may be required to fill out a medical form for you if you have pre-existing conditions. Remember the more fit and healthy you are prior to leaving, then the more strength you will have to fight any unwanted illnesses or infection.


Routine Vaccinations

No matter where you are travelling it is important to be up to date with routine vaccines such as tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles/mumps/rubella (MMR) and seasonal influenza. Check with your doctor if you are unsure.

Did you know that more than half of tetanus cases are in people over 65, so if it is 10 years since your last booster you should have another. It is recommended to have a whooping cough (pertussis) vaccination in combination with tetanus if you are aged over 65 years and have not had one in the past 10 years.

Most measles outbreaks in Australia are coming from inadequately vaccinated adult travellers who catch it overseas and unfortunately bring it back into Australia. Australians born since 1966 and have not received 2 doses of MMR vaccines should have the vaccine prior to travel. People born before 1966 will have acquired immunity from natural infection as it was prevalent before this time so do not require MMR vaccination

We often think of preventing against exotic diseases when travelling – but what about the flu? Influenza is the most common vaccine preventable disease that travellers can catch so make sure your seasonal influenza vaccination is up to date. Those over 65 or with chronic health conditions should also be up to date with pneumococcal vacation.

Destinations specific vaccinations

If you are going to a third world destination you may need to be vaccinated for Hepatitis A and typhoid. Hepatitis B vaccination may also be recommended especially if you are receiving health care or are working/volunteering in the health sector. Some countries require yellow fever vaccination however it is best to discuss with your doctor and there are increased risks of side effects with these vaccinations in the over 65’s. Other vaccinations that may be required depending on your destination and duration of travel may include meningococcal, Japanese encephalitis, cholera and TB.  Some of these are only required if you are staying in rural locations in endemic regions.

Other Travel Medications

Your doctor may recommend medication to help prevent against malaria, altitude sickness or to treat traveller’s diarrhoea.

Following precautions against mosquito bites are essential such as using tropical strength insect repellent, long sleeve clothing and mosquito nets at night. Some regions have other mosquito born illnesses such as dengue and zika so avoiding mozzie bites is important.  Take food and water precautions to prevent traveller’s diarrhoea or gastroenteritis. If you are prone to urinary tract infections or skin infections your doctor may prescribe antibiotics just in case. A good first aid kit is as important as packing your toothbrush!

So instead of telling your doctor ‘’by the way I’m off to Africa next week, do I need any travel shots?’’ make travel medicine a priority and plan ahead.  We hope you have a great trip full of adventure and fun and good health.

For more information about vaccinations, the latest travel advice on your destination and tips for staying healthy while overseas;

About the author

Dr Georgia Page MBBS, FRACGP, BSc (Biomedical)
Dr Georgia Page graduated from the University of Sydney in 2002 and has been working on the Central Coast since 2002. She has many interests, in particular Women's health, paediatrics, preventative health and men's health. She is a medical educator for GP Synergy, regularly lecturing and supervising the GPs of tomorrow and is also an examiner for the RACGP (Royal Australian College of General Practitioners).

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