Newswise — If you’re planning an international trip with your child, you may be wondering what vaccines they need and when they should get them. Before you head out of the country, it’s essential to make sure your child is up to date on all of their routine immunizations, including vaccines for COVID-19, flu and RSV. But what additional vaccines should they get? The answer depends on your child’s age and where you’re going.

Children’s Hospital Los Angeles Care Network pediatrician answers your vaccine questions and shares other tips for protecting your child while traveling.

When should I get my child vaccinated before we travel?

When it comes to travel vaccinations, plan ahead. Your child needs to get immunized well in advance of your departure date, so give yourself plenty of time. “I tell my families that it’s best to come in about six weeks prior to international travel,” says CHLA Care Network member Lauren Nguyen, MD, MPH, a private practice pediatrician with Children’s Medical Group in Torrance, California.

Make an appointment with your child’s pediatrician to go over your travel plans, discuss any recommendations, and get the vaccines. There’s a lot of information to cover, so you’ll need an in-person visit (rather than a phone call).

Planning ahead can help you:

  • Get the right dose. Some vaccines require several doses. For example, malaria pills need to be taken daily up to two weeks before you leave, the entire time you’re gone, and up to four weeks after you return home.
  • Ensure availability. If your child needs the yellow fever or typhoid vaccine, the pediatrician might need to order it in advance. Pediatricians don’t always keep these special vaccines on hand.
  • Maximize protection. Your child’s immune system needs time to develop a robust response. “It takes about two to four weeks to respond to the vaccine and develop the antibodies,” says Dr. Nguyen.

How do I know which travel immunizations my child should get?

The specific vaccine recommendations vary based on where you’re going. Ask your child’s pediatrician for the latest guidelines. You can also go to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) Travelers’ Health website- Opens in a new window. On that page, you’ll find a search bar that allows you to explore information about the country you’ll be visiting. “The CDC website tells you about any current outbreaks as well as the recommended vaccines for that country,” says Dr. Nguyen.

Dr. Nguyen also points out that it’s important to get your child vaccinated if you’re going on a cruise—no matter what the destination is. “The people you’ll be on the ship with might have been vacationing all over the world,” she says. Vaccines can protect your children from a wide range of illnesses these passengers might bring on board.

How do the vaccine recommendations vary based on my child’s age?

If your child is under 1 year old, they may need to get some vaccines earlier than they usually would. For example, on the regular vaccine schedule, children get the first dose of the measles vaccine between 12 and 15 months and the second dose between 4 and 6 years of age. “That changes for international travel,” says Dr. Nguyen. “Children between 6 and 12 months of age should get a first dose of the measles vaccine prior to travel.” That first dose does not replace the other two doses. Your child will still need those on schedule.

The schedule shifts a bit for the hepatitis A vaccine, too. On the regular vaccine schedule, children get the hepatitis A vaccine between 12 and 23 months of age. “Infants 6 to 11 months old should be vaccinated when protection against hepatitis A is recommended for the destination- Opens in a new window. This dose does not count toward the routine 2-dose series,” says Dr. Nguyen. However, she notes, if your baby is under 2 months, you probably shouldn’t travel internationally unless it’s absolutely necessary.

Children over age 11 should be sure to get the meningitis A (MenACWY) vaccine. This shot is part of the routine childhood vaccine schedule, but it’s not required by public schools in some states. Dr. Nguyen strongly recommends it for travel, especially if you’re going on a cruise since you’ll be in close quarters with other people. Children who are 16 or older should also get the meningitis B (MenB) vaccine.

What else can I do keep my child healthy while traveling internationally?

To prevent illness and be prepared if issues arise, Dr. Nguyen suggests bringing along:

  • CDC-approved insect repellant
  • Children’s acetaminophen, ibuprofen and Benadryl
  • Hydrocortisone cream
  • Packets of electrolyte-replacement powder (like Pedialyte)
  • Sunscreen
  • Your health insurance card

You should also check with your medical insurance provider to make sure you have international travel health insurance. There are so many details to consider when planning an international trip with your family. Ensuring that your child is protected can give you peace of mind so you can enjoy your time together.