The question we hear the most is “Do I need travel vaccines to visit Southeast Asia”, the answer is no. As of today, no countries require you to have any specific vaccine to enter their country other than the obvious big ol’ Covid Vaccines. However, for almost every country there are various travel vaccines that are highly recommended. In this post we will go through recommendations for each country, the vaccines we got, and the whole process from research to actually getting the vaccines ourselves. (with some tips and recommendations along the way.)
So first things first, everything in this post is advice and experiences of what we went through, we highly recommend you go to your local travel clinic (for us that was Boots) and ask their advice at least 2 to 3 months before your planned trip. A tip if you’re in the UK, go to Boots to get the vaccines if you do not get free from NHS. This is because you accumulate a lot of Boots points depending on how many vaccines you get, and these points can then be used on travel accessories that you will be buying anyway. We saved just over one hundred pounds by using Boots points to get our travel medical accessories and toiletries.
What Vaccines are recommended?
A lot of the recommended vaccines overlap countries, so there is no need to look individually at Thailand, then Laos, etc. You will find the vaccines below are recommended for most of the SEA countries. The vaccines recommended are due to certain diseases being extremely common in SEA countries, diseases that are rare if not obsolete in western countries. This is why they are recommended, you may never get the disease during your travels, but just in case, having the vaccines beforehand will be incredibly beneficial.
Possible Free NHS Vaccines (British Citizens)
The Hepatitis A vaccine is one that can be free on NHS if you are from the UK. However you must use a GP that has signed up for this, unfortunately, we were not, meaning we had to pay for our Hepatitis A vaccine in Boots where we got all of our vaccines. Give your GP a call and ask them if they offer any travel vaccines for free!
Check out more about NHS Vaccines here: Free UK Travel Vaccines
Hepatitis A is one of the most common infectious diseases in Southeast Asia, it is spread through contaminated food and water so is more common in countries with worse hygiene like Laos & Cambodia, however, it is still seen in basically all of the Southeast Asian countries. You will need more than one dose so we recommend going to your GP or travel clinic a good month before you leave, for us, we got the twin Hepatitis A & B vaccine and we had our first jab, then 7 days later, then 21 days later, with another booster jab optional 12 months later this will make the vaccine last for another couple of decades so if you feel you will be traveling a lot then it is probably worthwhile.
If your GP can not offer free vaccines, then Hepatitis A will cost you £90 for all doses.
Hepatitis B, although similar in name, is very different from Hepatitis A and is not free through NHS, you will have to pay for this one no matter what. As mentioned before, we got a twin vaccine that included Hepatitis A & B, saving a bit of money and our arms from extra needle jabs. Hepatitis B is a viral infection that is transmitted via bodily fluids, infected blood, unsanitary needles, and unprotected sex. If you are going to Southeast Asia and thinking about a bamboo tattoo, get in an accident, and need stitches, or will be jumping on tinder and having sexual partners, then you could be at risk of contracting this infection. It is advised to get the vaccine purely for the potential accident risk, even if you do not plan on getting tattoos or sexual partners, you never know if you will have an accident that requires stitches.
Similar to Hep A, you will need multiple doses, so again head to your clinic early to ensure you get all of the doses before you leave. For us, the Twinrix vaccine we got was on day 1, day 7, and day 28. Hepatitis B will cost you around £100 for all doses.
We both decided to get a Bamboo tattoo in Koh Tao, Thailand. The tattoo shop we used was incredibly clean and they used fresh bamboo needles for each person, however some places do not and you can easily find yourself getting an infection. We both got the Hep B vaccine as we knew we both wanted a bamboo tattoo before we left, so the extra precaution is always worth it for us.
Polio (Tetanus, Diphtheria & Polio Combined)
Another potentially free NHS vaccine that is recommended for Southeast Asia is polio, which is given as a combined vaccine for Tetanus, Diphtheria, and Polio. In the UK, you likely had this vaccine as a child, but you need regular boosters, your GP will be able to tell you if you are still covered or if you need a booster. For us, we needed a booster as our vaccine was over 10 years ago.
Polio is a viral disease that although most common in children, can infect everyone. It is incredibly infectious and spreads through bodily fluids that at worse can cause paralysis to the host. It is a life-threatening disease so taking any precautions is highly recommended.
Unlike Hepatitis, you only need one Polio jab, so you can get this a few days before you depart, although again we recommend heading to the clinic earlier and getting your polio vaccine when you get the other vaccines a few weeks early.
If your GP can not offer free vaccines, then Polio booster will cost you around £32.
Typhoid is another NHS vaccine if your GP can offer it. Typhoid is a bacterial infection that can occur if you consume food or drinks that have been contaminated with Salmonella Typhi, it is highly recommended in Southeast Asia due to the potentially unsanitary conditions. The infection can cause fever, vomiting, diarrhea and even be life-threatening. From our experience, most places are sanitary and hygienic so this infection should be rare, however, if you plan to volunteer in more rural areas where tourism isn’t as popular, then the typhoid vaccine is highly recommended. We have had some experience volunteering in Laos can have seen some very unhygienic processes when preparing and cooking food, so take care of that.
The typhoid vaccine is one injection, with boosters every few years. So if you are only traveling for a few months or a couple of years, then only one vaccine will be needed to be fully covered.
If your GP can not offer free vaccines, then Typhoid will cost you around £39.
Cholera is the final potentially free vaccine through the NHS. Although it is a lesser recommended vaccine as it is much rarer to see, it is still possible so a vaccine will still be beneficial. If you can get it free, you might as well just get that extra precaution. Cholera is an infection that causes severe diarrhea, it is caught by drinking unclean water, eating food from unclean water, and eating food that has been handled by a person carrying the infection. Although rare, it can be seen in some Asian countries where water systems are not up to standard.
Again, if you think you will be heading to more rural areas, then the Cholera vaccine is probably a very good idea. The vaccine is a drink, given in two doses, six weeks apart. It is recommended that the last dose is taken at least 2 weeks before you begin to travel, so again, get to your GP or travel clinic early. If you choose against the vaccine, then you can do basic actions to lower the risk of Cholera. First do not drink tap water, even though some countries like Thailand, claim to have drinkable tap water, it is highly debated, so it is safer to just only drink bottled water. Always wash your hands with soap, due to the water not being the cleanest in Southeast Asia, soap is a necessity, carry some sanitizer just in case.
If your GP can not offer free vaccines, then Cholera will cost you £56.
Other Recommended Vaccines that aren’t free
It may sound farfetched, but Rabies is another vaccine recommended if you are traveling to Southeast Asia. Even though rabies is mostly associated with animals, it is an incredibly horrific disease for humans that can cause seizures, hallucinations, paralysis, and almost always leads to death. In Southeast Asia, there are a lot of wild animals, and bites are incredibly common, in our 3 months of traveling, we have met a surprisingly high amount of people that have been bitten by dogs or monkeys that roam around tourist spots. If these animals haven’t had rabies, then that would have been detrimental without the vaccine.
However, there are two ways to go about the Rabies vaccine and this has led to some people recommending against getting it before traveling. This is because if you find yourself bitten while in Southeast Asia, you will be rushed to the hospital and given a rabies booster no matter what. This is because the initial vaccine is not complete protection, it does however, extend the time in which you can get the post-bite booster from 24 hours to 72 hours so it is still beneficial, just not necessary. The vaccine is also quite expensive, when we enquired in the UK it was £160 to get all the necessary doses and from what we have read, in the US it can be as much as $900. This also isn’t covered in travel insurance, whereas the booster post-bite would be covered by most travel insurance providers so although potentially unwise, it can be cheaper to be reactive rather than proactive when it comes to the rabies vaccine.
Speak to your GP or Travel Clinic and hear their advice and decide for yourself.
MMR (Measles, Mumps, Rubella)
The MMR is another highly recommended vaccine to get if you are heading to Southeast Asia and similar to the Polio vaccine, you likely received the MMR vaccine as a child in school. The child vaccine lasts 20 years, so if you are under 25, you are likely still covered, but it is always worth it to get ahold of your medical history from your GP and see if you need a booster. We both needed the booster as our vaccine was just over 20 years ago.
The vaccine protects from the highly infectious diseases of Measles, Mumps, and Rubella, which can lead to meningitis, hearing loss, and severe problem during pregnancy so taking precautions is really recommended. We are not sure about how the MMR vaccine works in countries outside of the UK, so get in contact with your doctor to find out.
The MMR vaccine is around £90 depending on the clinic you use.
Ignore the name, Japanese Encephalitis is not only recommended if you are visiting Japan, it is found in many countries in Southeast Asia. It is a disease that is found in pigs, birds, and also mosquitos in rural areas, and it is incredibly horrible when passed to humans. The disease can cause vomiting, high fever, and in some cases, a coma or death. The disease is very rare, which is why it’s probably the least common vaccine on this list, however, it is still a risk so it is worth researching and asking your doctor or travel clinic about.
The vaccine is given in two doses and costs around £190 dependent on which clinic you use. If you decide against the vaccine, then take other precautions, avoid pigs and birds in rural areas, and have mosquito repellent with you at all times, the repellent will also protect you from many other diseases that we have listed above.
If youre planning a trip to Southeast Asia, then head to your doctor and get your medical history, if in the UK, ask if they offer free travel vaccines, and get in contact with your travel clinic to get an appointment. Speaking to someone whos job is traveling and vaccines can be incredibly helpful you helping you decide on what you want to get. We found that our specialist at Boots was very helpful and wasnt pushy at all when it came to the vaccines, if we didnt think we needed one, she didnt push us to spend the money.
If you have any questions that haven’t been answered in this post, then comment below and we will help as much as we can!
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