Do I Need Any Vaccines to Travel to Europe in 2024?

Do I Need Any Vaccines to Travel to Europe in 2024?
June 5, 2024
The streets of Europe will be crowded this summer
The streets of Europe will be crowded this summer

A young mother visited our clinic urgently requesting a measles vaccine for her 8-month-old daughter. They were preparing to return home to England when she learned that her neighbor’s infant son was on life support due to a measles infection. England is currently experiencing a country-wide measles outbreak.

This week, I received additional alerts about  pertussis (whooping cough) outbreaks with thousands of cases in Germany and France. 

Europe remains one of the most popular tourist destinations in the world and is generally considered safe in terms of health risks due to high standards of sanitation and universal access to healthcare. However, if you are planning a trip to Europe, be aware of recent disease outbreaks and take measures to prevent illness, protecting yourself, your children, and your community.

Routine Vaccines for Travelers to Europe

Travel increases your risk of certain infectious diseases due to exposure to crowds and confined spaces on planes, trains, and public transit. Many of Europe’s cities and tourist hotspots become crowded during the busy summer season, making it even more important to stay up-to-date with routine vaccines.

CDC Recommendations:

  • Influenza (Flu) Vaccine: All persons over 6 months should receive an annual flu vaccine.
  • COVID-19 Vaccine: Ensure you have the latest COVID-19 vaccine.

These vaccines are recommended even if you are not traveling, but especially to avoid ruining your vacation with a preventable illness.

MMR (Mumps, Measles, and Rubella) Vaccine for Travel to Europe

Ensure you are up-to-date with your MMR vaccine. This vaccine protects against measles, mumps, and rubella. Many European countries, including Austria, Germany, Switzerland, the United Kingdom, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Romania, Russia, Albania, and Armenia, are currently experiencing measles outbreaks.

Measles: A Highly Contagious Disease

Measles is one of the most contagious diseases and can be particularly deadly for children. While it became rare in the US after the introduction of vaccines in the 1960s, outbreaks still occur when vaccination rates drop below a certain threshold. In the last five years, several measles outbreaks have occurred in the US, and they remain frequent in Europe.

Do Adults Need an MMR Vaccine?

Everyone needs two documented MMR vaccines to be protected. For international travelers 12 months or older, two doses at least 28 days apart are recommended. Anyone born in the US before 1957 is considered to have immunity to measles.

What if My Child is Too Young for the MMR Vaccine?

Infants do not receive their first scheduled MMR vaccine until 12 months of age. If you are traveling internationally with an infant aged 6–11 months, the US CDC recommends an accelerated dose of the MMR vaccine at least two weeks prior to travel.

Tdap Vaccine for Pertussis Outbreaks in Europe

Many European countries are experiencing an increase in pertussis (whooping cough), which tends to cycle every 3 to 5 years. The European CDC reported over 25,000 cases of pertussis in 2023, and more than 32,000 cases from January to March 2024. New outbreaks have developed in France, Germany and Norway, with ongoing outbreaks in countries including Bulgaria, Croatia, Denmark, and Spain.

Tdap Vaccine for travel

The Tdap vaccine in adults and adolescents (DTaP in children under 7) protects against tetanus, diphtheria, and pertussis. Pertussis is highly contagious and can be fatal to small children. Women in the US receive an updated Tdap vaccine with every pregnancy.

Consider a Tdap Booster Every 5 Years

The pertussis component of the Tdap vaccine starts to lose effectiveness 2-3 years after administration. If it has been 5 years since your last Tdap vaccine, consider getting another one, especially when traveling overseas.

Risk of Hepatitis A in Europe

Hepatitis A, caused by the hepatitis A virus, leads to liver inflammation. It is transmitted through contaminated food and water or direct contact with an infected person. While more prevalent in developing countries with poor sanitation, several European countries have moderate susceptibility, including Cyprus, France, Greece, Italy, and Spain.

Hepatitis A Vaccine for travel

An effective and safe vaccine is available to protect against hepatitis A. It is part of the routine immunization schedule for children in the US, but many adults lack immunity. All international travelers should receive the hepatitis A vaccine, which provides lifetime immunity.

Tick-Borne Encephalitis (TBE) in Europe and Asia

Tick-borne encephalitis (TBE) is a viral infection affecting the central nervous system, transmitted by infected ticks. Travelers are at risk if they engage in outdoor activities like hiking in forested areas. Many European countries, from central Europe to the Baltics and Scandinavia, have conditions favorable for TBE. The risk is highest during the summer months but can be minimized with tick bite precautions. An effective TBE vaccine is available.

Consult Your Travel Health Specialist

Before your trip, check with your pediatrician or primary care provider to ensure you are up-to-date with your immunizations. Visit a travel health specialist at least 6-8 weeks prior to travel to learn about specific disease risks in your destination countries.

By taking these preventive measures, you can enjoy your European travels with peace of mind.