Travel vaccinations for children – Tips for healthy family holidays
Travel vaccinations for children play an important part in keeping your family safe while abroad.
Although the UK has a primary vaccination schedule for children provided by the NHS, it does not protect against many of the diseases found elsewhere in the world.
Here is our guide to keeping your children healthy wherever they go.
What is the current vaccination schedule for children in the UK?
In the UK, a vaccination schedule for children is offered free of charge through the NHS, and is known as the primary vaccination programme.
Many of the vaccinations given protect against diseases that occur commonly in the UK as well as other parts of the world, such as measles, meningitis and cervical cancer.
Some of the vaccinations provide initial protection against diseases more commonly found abroad and sometimes caught by UK travellers, such as diphtheria, tetanus and polio.
It is therefore important that your child receives their primary vaccinations on time to stay healthy at home and abroad.
If your child will be travelling now or later in life and they do not receive their primary vaccinations, they may need to start or complete a full course before they travel.
This can take much longer than receiving a booster dose, and might mean needing to delay your travel plans.
From autumn 2018, all children are offered these vaccinations, but there is the option to opt out.
Which travel vaccinations or boosters should you consider for your children?
When travelling abroad, it is important to get advice on any additional vaccinations your child may need.
Your child’s risk of catching potentially life-threatening diseases is higher in countries where many people are unvaccinated, and infections can also spread much more easily due to issues such as poor sanitation and lack of access to medical care.
There are also a wider range of diseases and infections found in various parts of the world that are not present in the UK, therefore your child is not protected against these as part of their primary vaccination schedule.
The primary vaccination schedule does include initial protection against common travel diseases such as diphtheria, tetanus, polio, hepatitis B and meningitis. However, it is likely that your child, particularly if they are very young, will still need to receive booster doses to be fully protected before travel.
Additional travel vaccinations for children, not included in the primary vaccination schedule, include vaccines to protect against:
These diseases are not present in the UK, so it is important that you check whether your children need any vaccines, so they are protected while travelling in risk countries.
It’s important to remember that risks can change from time to time, so always check before each trip.
Should you expect any side effects after your child is vaccinated?
Side effects of travel vaccinations for children vary depending on the type of vaccine, vaccination history, age and health status.
It is natural to be concerned that your child will have side effects after having a vaccination.
For the majority of travel vaccinations, the side effects are the same for children as they are for adults, and they are usually very mild.
Serious side effects, such as life-threatening allergic reactions, are very rare and occur in less than one in a million cases.
It can be distressing to see your baby or young child cry or be unsettled after an injection, but that usually settles soon with a cuddle or a feed.
Babies and children may sometimes develop a fever after a vaccination. If this happens, keep your child cool, make sure they do not wear too many layers of clothes or blankets and give them plenty of cool drinks.
Parents may worry that a child’s immune system will not be able to cope with vaccines or several vaccines at once. But in fact, even a tiny baby’s immune system can cope easily.
If a child received 11 vaccines at once, it would only use about a 1/1000 of the immune system’s power. Side effects will not be more extreme because of a child’s age.
If your child has travel vaccination side effects that do not go away after a few days, or you are concerned, you should speak to your doctor.
How long will your child’s vaccinations last?
The length of time travel vaccinations for children can protect against diseases also varies considerably, depending on the type of vaccine, vaccination history, age and health status.
Some travel vaccinations for children protect for shorter lengths of time than adults, while others will provide the same protection.
Do children need an international vaccination certificate?
Some countries require proof of vaccination, for example for polio or yellow fever vaccinations, which must be documented on an International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis (ICVP) before you enter or when you leave a country.
Children require the certificate as well as adults, and it is issued when your child is vaccinated.
The vaccination certificate can be used every time your child travels, so it is important to keep it safe.
A certificate issued to a child should be signed by a parent or guardian until they are old enough to sign for themselves.
What should you do if you are unsure of your child’s vaccination history?
In the UK, shortly before or after your baby is born, you will be given a personal child health record (PCHR). This usually has a red cover and is known as the red book.
You should take your baby's red book with you every time you visit the baby clinic or GP, so important information such as details of vaccinations can be recorded.
The red book is used until your child has completed the schedule with a pre-school booster at around 3 years and 5 months. After this, information about all the vaccinations that your child has received are usually kept electronically by your doctor (GP).
However, you may like to keep your own record somewhere safe.
If you are unsure what vaccinations your child has received, your doctor will be able to advise you.
Getting your child vaccinated at a pharmacy
Vaccination of children can be difficult for you as a parent, as your child may be nervous or scared.
All our partner pharmacies take special care when vaccinating your child. Your child will always be sitting on your lap while you are holding them during the vaccination, so they feel safe.
As you are holding your child, the vaccinator at the pharmacy will also be able to complete the vaccination quickly, in order to reduce any discomfort for your child.
The vaccinator will always assess whether it is possible to perform a quick and safe vaccination for your child, making sure that they have a good experience. If your child is very uncomfortable with the situation and it is not possible to calm them down, the vaccination will therefore be stopped.
How else can you protect your family while travelling abroad?
It is important to remember that although travel vaccinations for children massively decrease your child’s risk of diseases, they are not 100% effective.
There are many things you can do, in addition to getting vaccinated, that can protect you and your family from potentially life-threatening infections.
Read up about common diseases where you are travelling so that you can quickly spot any signs of illness.
It is a good idea to keep with you a list of contacts that you may need in an emergency, including details of local hospitals and British embassies.
If you or your family require any medication, such as inhalers, please ensure that you have enough for the whole trip. A note from your doctor can be useful, particularly if airport security have any questions about the medication you are carrying, or if for any reason you need further prescriptions while abroad.
Proper personal hygiene
Many diseases are transmitted through poor hygiene, so regular hand washing with soap and water or alcohol hand gel is vital.
The time it takes to sing the “happy birthday” song twice, is how long children should wash their hands to ensure they are cleaned thoroughly. Encouraging younger children to sing with you while they do this, can make this activity more fun.
Remind children to avoid touching their eyes, nose and mouth, and keep a supply of tissues with you for wiping and catching sneezes and coughs.
Where possible, avoid contact with people who are unwell.
Some diseases, such as typhoid, can be transmitted through contact with human faeces. Because of this, it is important to teach children about proper personal hygiene when going to the toilet.
When travelling with babies or toddlers, it is important to dispose of any nappies and wipes carefully and keep your baby’s hands clean.
Choosing food and drink
There is a higher risk of consuming contaminated water and food when travelling abroad, especially to exotic destinations. You should therefore choose food and drink carefully, and only give your children bottled or boiled water to drink while travelling in risk countries.
Teach your child to only eat or drink items that you have provided them with. If they are offered something by someone else, encourage them to ask you first if it is okay to eat or drink.
Cuts, scrapes and bites
Although it is important not to cause young children unnecessary anxiety about the health risks of travelling, encouraging them to speak to you about any changes they notice on their body, such as bites, scrapes and feeling unwell, will alert you to any issues and allow you to seek medical attention sooner.
Encourage children to make you aware of any cuts and scratches, as wounds that are not cleaned and treated can become infected by diseases like tetanus.
If possible, carry a small first aid kit with you, so that you are able to clean and cover any wounds if needed, before seeking medical attention.
Young children, who have pets or are fond of animals, may be tempted to stroke or feed strays while travelling.
Talk to your children about the need to stay away from animals while away from home, particularly dogs and cats. Unvaccinated animals can cause rabies if they cut or scratch you or your child.
Diseases, such as yellow fever and tick-borne encephalitis, are caused by the bites of mosquitoes and ticks.
Dressing your child in appropriate clothing that covers their arms and legs, applying insect repellent containing 50% DEET to their skin and using mosquito nets will help protect them.
Get into the routine of checking your child’s skin in the evenings so that you can become aware quickly of anything that needs attention.
Let us help you have a healthy family holiday
We know keeping your family safe and healthy abroad is your absolute priority. But doing so does not have to be stressful.
Book a free telephone consultation to speak with one of our prescribing nurses about the vaccinations your child will require. They will ensure you have all the information you need, so you can be safe in the knowledge that your family is protected.
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