Digital Nomad Travel Vaccinations – Podcast 032

In this episode B and Jack talk about digital nomad travel vaccinations. They answer the question of the necessity or not of vaccines for digital nomads, which vaccines to take, what to consider before taking vaccines and, where/when to start the vaccinations.

The information on this site is not intended or implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. We are not doctors, thus you should always double-check the information provided here concerning mosquito-borne diseases with an expert.

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1. Summary

1.1. The topic of digital nomad travel vaccinations within the Digital Nomad Life System

  • The Digital Nomad Life System is a 6-step system created by us at Nomad Tactics that aims to explain how someone can go from living a non-nomadic normal life to living an optimized digital nomad life.
  • The topic today fits the first step of our system, which is the “Nomadic Life Prep”.
  • Nomadic Life Prep can be understood as the actions someone needs to take beforehand to optimally transition from a normal stable life to a digital nomad life. There are many areas we will cover in this step of the system. The main areas being finances, logistics, and psychology. The question of digital nomad travel vaccinations is something you need to decide before you transition to a nomadic life (granted that you will need to top up the medications along the journey as a digital nomad once in a while). That is why we place this topic into this step.
  • To have a general overview of the Digital Nomad Life System you should listen to this episode.

1.2. A general overview of vaccines

I will not extend myself too much here explaining what exactly are vaccines since I am not a doctor or expert on the subject. Nonetheless, I think it is important to talk about a couple of points to do with vaccines in order to contextualize the whole episode a little bit better.

So vaccines obviously have the aim to protect you against certain diseases by teaching your body to create antibodies to that disease before you ever enter into contact with it. It is a kind of precaution in a similar fashion to a seat belt. You use a seat belt not thinking that you are about to crash the car, but just in case that happens you will be more protected. In a similar fashion, you take vaccines not expecting to contract the disease when you are abroad (especially because some of these diseases are quite rare), but if you enter in contact with the pathogen that causes one of these diseases you will be glad you took the relevant vaccine in the first place.

The majority of vaccines are taken as prophylaxis. This means that you take the vaccine prior to contracting the disease in order to diminish the chances of you acquiring it in the first place. The notable exception here is the rabies vaccine (which we will talk about) that you may also take once you contracted the disease to treat it.

There are a number of vaccines types (inactivated, live attenuates, protein subunit, among other types). Also depending on the specific vaccine that you might take it might be required more than one dose to be immunized.

One great resource to understand better exactly what vaccines are is CDC Vaccines.

1.3. Are vaccines necessary for digital nomads

Strictly speaking, most vaccines are not required for digital nomads. Having said that I think it makes total sense to take travel vaccines since these tend to be relatively inexpensive (with few exceptions) and they can provide you great protection against some deadly diseases.

Also, some vaccines are indeed required to enter some countries as we will see. The yellow fever vaccine being the perfect example of a required vaccine in some countries around the world.

Besides that, another reason why you might consider taking travel vaccines is due to a phenomenon called: cross-reactive immunity. Cross-reactivity is when the creation of antibodies (that were triggered by vaccination for instance) recognize and provoke a similarly robust immune response to a closely related but previously unencountered antigen. In this way, this means that you might get vaccinated against a certain disease X and then be protected, to a certain extent from other diseases. Thus,  in some way, you can see that as a boost in your immune system overall.

Overall, I think it makes total sense to get as many digital nomad travel vaccinations as possible as a digital nomad since one of the worst things is to get sick abroad in a foreign country, especially with a serious disease.

1.4. List of digital nomad travel vaccinations

Now we will present a list of the main vaccines you might consider taking as a digital nomad as well as a quick description of each (e.g. number of doses, price, etc.). Notice that these characteristics might change slightly depending on the country in which you decide to take the vaccines.

We will present a number of different “categories” of vaccines. Keep in mind that there might be some overlap between categories.

All the prices that I am about to present are in Starling Pounds and based on the prices of vaccines offered in the UK

A. Routine vaccines

Routine vaccines are the vaccines that the majority of people already took as a child or teen regardless of going for a trip or not. I will not list all the routine vaccines since the list is quite long and also irrelevant for digital nomads (since they likely already took those vaccines). Some of the routine vaccines are MMR, Polio, Hepatitis A, Hepatitis B, Tetanus, etc.

These routine vaccines will vary to a certain extent from country to country. For example, in some countries, Hepatitis A is a routine vaccine in other countries it is not.

B. Recommended Travel vaccines

These are the most likely recommended digital nomad travel vaccinations that you will need to take before starting your journey.

  • Meningitis
    • There are a few different forms of Meningitis. Usually, when you take the vaccine it will be against a number of different forms of meningitis.  This is a bacterial infection that affects the brain and spinal cord. It can spread from person to person via coughing, kissing, or eating contaminated food.
    • Single-dose
    • 3-5 years protection
    • $80 pounds total
    • Recommended if you are going to Africa or the Middle East
  • Japanese Encephalitis
    • Japanese Encephalitis disease is a mosquito-borne desease. Some cases can lead to inflammation of the brain that ultimately can be fatal.
    • 2 doses received over one month
    • 1-2 years protection
    • $200 pounds  in total
    • Recommended if you are going to Asia
  • Cholera
    • Cholera is a bacterial desease that affects your intestine. You can contract this disease by consuming contaminated water or food.
    • Single-dose
    • 1-2 years protection
    • $80 pounds total
    • Recommended if you are going to Africa
  • Typhoid
    • Typhoid is a bacterial infection that spreads through contaminated food or water.
    • Single-dose
    • 2 years (for the injection)
    • $60 pounds total
    • Recommended if you are going to South America, Central America, Asia, Africa and some Pacific Islands
  • Rabies
    • Rabies is a viral disease contracted by the bite of an animal like dog and foxes. It affects the central nervous system and it can be fatal if not treated.
    • 3 doses received over one month
    • 5-8 years protection
    • $240 pounds total
    • Recommended if you are going to South America or Middle East or Africa
  • Yellow Fever
    • Yellow fever is a mosquito-borne viral disease that can be deadly.
    • Single-dose
    • Lifetime protection
    • $90 pounds total
    • Recommended if you are going to South America or Africa

C. Restricted vaccines

These vaccines are called restricted use because either they are only available in some countries or are only available under certain circumstances. Therefore, it is unlikely you will be able to take any of the vaccines listed in this category.

Ebola: This vaccine had been granted full approval in 2019, but it is nonetheless quite hard to find a place to take it. Also in some countries, this is not available to the general public

Hepatitis E: Based on my research this vaccine is only available in China.

Malaria: This somewhat experimental vaccine is available for restricted use in some regions around the world.

Dengue: Just like the Malaria vaccine, the Dengue vaccine is is available for restricted use (you can only take it if you comply with a certain criteria) in some regions around the world.

D. Required vaccines

These are vaccines that are required to enter some countries around the world. Also, when when you take these required vaccines make sure you get the certificate that proves your immunized status.

Yellow fever: This is one of the travel vaccines that we previously talked about. It is required to enter some countries in South America and Africa.

Meningitis: This is one of the travel vaccines that we previously talked about. It is required to enter Saudi Arabia.

Polio: In most countries, the polio vaccine is part of the routine vaccination. This vaccine required to enter in Saudi Arabia

Covid: A new item that was added to this category due to the pandemic. It is likely that this will be a required vaccine to enter many countries around the world in the years to come.

All in all, you can expect to spend around 750 to 1000 pounds (around 1000 to 1400 USD). Keep in mind that for the majority of vaccines you will pay that once and that’s it. At the very most you will need a booster dose in the far future. That is why I do not think vaccines are not such an expensive investment all things considered.

1.5. 4 Things to consider before starting taking digital nomad travel vaccinations

Check your unique health circumstances: These are things like if you are pregnant, if you have an underlying disease (e.g. diabetes, etc), if you are immunosuppressed, among other things. The best way to do that is to talk to a doctor and check with him which vaccines are appropriate for you to take.

Which vaccines are relevant to you depending on where you going: As I said previously if I had the time and the money I would take all the vaccines that were available to me. Nonetheless, you might want to select just a few of those to take based on the countries in which you plan to stay and/or the environment you will stay in within such countries (i.e. urban, rural). So if that is the case it is important to talk to a doctor to check which of the previously listed vaccines would be relevant to you

Which vaccines you already took before: You should check which vaccines you already took before based on your immunization record. Sometimes even if you took a vaccine before it might have been so long ago that the doctor might recommend a “booster” dose. Also if you are not sure if you took a vaccine before, you can talk with the doctor to see if it is possible to take it again just in case.

Make sure you are in a good health: I would recommend you to start taking vaccines when you feeling overall well, with no sickness of any kind. This is because, even though the great majority of side effects are very mild and temporary, sometimes you will feel those (this will depend greatly on the specific vaccine you are taking; live attenuated viruses are the worst in terms of side effects in my experience).

1.6. Where and when to take digital nomad travel vaccinations

The best places for digital nomad travel vaccinations are travel clinics, pharmacies or hospitals in your home country. Most of the vaccines previously listed are quite easily found. Since the beginning of this episode, I have suggested taking vaccines in your home country before you start your digital nomad journey (that is why I placed the topic today into the Nomadic Life Prep step of our Digital Nomad Life System) There are two reasons why I think it makes sense to take vaccines in your home country rather than abroad.

First, it is better to already be protected against diseases from the get-go. Second, and perhaps most importantly, depending on the country in which you are going to (especially if you are considering going to more developing countries) it might be a little thicker to get vaccinated there. The reason for that is because you want at all costs to avoid counterfeit vaccines and vaccines that were not stored in the right conditions (i.e. right temperature) since this can lead to less effective vaccines. Assessing these things when you are visiting a new country is kind of hard. So unless you are going to a developed country in which you can be sure that the vaccines that you are offered are appropriate, I would rather take those on your home country.

Now that we talked about where to take vaccines, let us talk about when to take those. As a rule of thumb, I would start getting immunized around 2 to 3 months before the start of my digital nomad journey. This is because some vaccines that we talked about require multiple doses so these might take a while to be completed. Also, we need to factor in that for the majority of vaccines the full immune response only kicks in about 2 weeks after the last dose of the vaccination course.

Finally one last observation for when you decide to start taking your vaccines. For the majority of the vaccines, you might be able to take more than one at once. So for example in your first visiting a travel clinic you could take a rabies vaccine dose, Japanese encephalitis vaccine dose and cholera vaccine. Yet, in certain circumstances, multiple vaccines at once are not possible. This might be because of possible side effects of combining too many at once (this seem to be especially the case when we dealing with live attenuated virus vaccines because these tend to bring about stronger side effects) or possible interaction between vaccines (if that is the case you might need to wait between 15 to 30 days between vaccines that might interact with one another).

1.7. Diseases without vaccines

Even though vaccines are very important, some diseases that digital nomads might encounter in their journeys still do not have a vaccine against. Therefore, it is important to take extra measures to avoid those.

Some of the measures I would recommend are the following:

Bring the necessary medication: These are both in terms of medications for the prophylaxis of diseases (e.g. Malaria pills) as well as to treat specific conditions caused by diseases. We cover which medications we recommend digital nomads to take with them in this episode.

Take precautionary measures against mosquito-borne diseases: Even though some mosquito-borne diseases have vaccines against (e.g. yellow fever, Japanese encephalitis), some do not (e.g. chikungunya, zika, etc). Therefore it is important to take precautionary measures to prevent mosquito-borne diseases. We talk about this topic in this episode.

Eat safely on the road: Some diseases that can be transmitted by ingestion of contaminated food have vaccines against (e.g. Hepatitis A). Yet, some of these diseases do not have vaccines against. Therefore it is important to take proactive measures to eat safely on the road. We talked about this topic in this episode.

Have health insurance: Finally, if things turn out bad, vaccinated or not, it is important to have health insurance when you travel. The one I recommend is Safety Wings.

2. Transcript

3. Resources