Travel vaccines: Don’t let illness ruin your trip

July 21, 2023

For plan members, sponsors and administrators

Pavithra Ravi is a practicing pharmacist and teaches at the University of Waterloo School of Pharmacy. She is also Director, Strategy and Key Accounts, for Manulife Group Benefits.

Years ago, a regular client at our pharmacy experienced the classic “spent the trip in the washroom” vacation nightmare.

He had booked a post-graduation celebratory trip to Vietnam, Laos and Thailand – out-of-the-ordinary destinations for someone who usually travelled only within North America. The group hadn’t done their due diligence and didn’t know how prevalent traveller’s diarrhea in some parts of Asia. He got it.

After that, there were no more excursions, no opportunity to taste the local cuisine, and one long and harrowing bus trip counting on Imodium. Even when he made it home, he was on bedrest for a while.

Illness can ruin a trip and leave you depleted instead of refreshed when you return to work – and it’s especially frustrating when it’s a vaccine-preventable illness. While the vaccine against traveller’s diarrhea can’t prevent every case, it can reduce the chance you’ll get it.1 There are also many other vaccines for diseases that circulate in various parts of the world.

The Government of Canada provides a list of recommended and required vaccines by country, but it’s best when a doctor, pharmacist or travel clinic provides tailored vaccination recommendations based on both the destination and the traveller’s planned activities.

Keep out-of-pocket costs in check

A little knowledge goes a long way when it comes to keeping out-of-pocket costs for travel vaccines to a minimum.

First, check if your benefits plan covers travel vaccines. You might also be able to see coverage limits for the medications, which will be important when shopping around.

Be aware that travel clinics may charge more than a benefits plan will cover as a “reasonable and customary” fee.  Travel clinics may also charge more than a plan covers to do the injection itself. 

People who are planning trips that require the specialized knowledge of a travel clinic may want to pay for the consultation, but then order any vaccines from a pharmacy to potentially reduce cost. A pharmacist can administer common travel vaccines in most provinces.

Employers can save money, too

Covering travel vaccines through a benefits plan can be cost-effective because it reduces the likelihood that employees will have to delay their return to work because they’re still recovering, or that they’ll pass their illness on to family members who require caregiving support, extending their absence even more.

Small businesses often include this coverage at least in part so the owners themselves have access to the vaccines they need to stay healthy while abroad. It’s even more important for larger businesses with a global outlook and employees travelling regularly to other countries.

There are lots of options to keep coverage affordable. For example, organizations often move from reimbursement with a cap to broader coverage as they grow and demand for this type of protection increases.

In the end, you won’t know every time a vaccine stops you from getting sick – but every illness prevented means less disruption for travellers and their employers.

Common vaccines for travellers

The Public Health Agency of Canada provides a lot of information in their travel vaccine guide. Check it out for all the details, but here’s a list of common vaccines you may want to consider when travelling.

Disease How it spreads Vaccine(s)
Traveller’s diarrhea and cholera Contaminated food, water Dukoral
Hepatitis A Contaminated food, water;
contact with infected person
Avaxim, Havrix; Twinrix protects against both Hep A & B
Hepatitis B Blood and other bodily fluids Engerix, Recombivax; Twinrix protects against both Hep A & B
Typhoid Contaminated food, water; contact with infected person Typhim
Meningococcal meningitis Contact with infected person Menveo, Menactra
Rabies Animal bites or scratches RabAvert, Imovax Rabies
Japanese encephalitis Mosquito bites Ixiaro
Yellow fever Mosquito bites Stamaril
Malaria Mosquito bites There is no vaccine but there are prophylactic medications, including Atovaquone/Proguanil (Malarone), Chloroquine, Doxycycline, Mefloquine, Primaquine, Tafenoquine (Arakoda)

Remember, it’s best when a doctor, pharmacist or travel clinic provides tailored vaccination recommendations based on your planned travels and activity.


1 López-Gigosos R, Campins M, Calvo MJ, Pérez-Hoyos S, Díez-Domingo J, Salleras L, Azuara MT, Martínez X, Bayas JM, Ramón Torrell JM, Pérez-Cobaleda MA, Núñez-Torrón ME, Gorgojo L, García-Rodríguez M, Díez-Díaz R, Armadans L, Sánchez-Fernández C, Mejías T, Masuet C, Pinilla R, Antón N, Segarra P. Effectiveness of the WC/rBS oral cholera vaccine in the prevention of traveler's diarrhea: a prospective cohort study. Hum Vaccin Immunother. 2013 Mar;9(3):692-8. doi: 10.4161/hv.23267. Epub 2013 Jan 16. PMID: 23324573; PMCID: PMC3891730.

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