Immunisation coverage should be verified for both travellers and immigrants20.03.2023
Prior to travelling, it is recommendable to update your vaccinations. Additional vaccinations are sometimes needed. Immigrants often require additional vaccinations as well.
Besides bookings and tickets, travellers should also keep their vaccinations in check.
− In addition to the immunisations that are mandatory in Finland, additional vaccinations are also needed depending on the destination, says travel physician, docent at University of Helsinki Petteri Carlson.
According to Carlson, several factors affect the need for additional vaccinations: how one is travelling (is it a package travel or a backpacking trip), where one is travelling (to a jungle or a hotel booked by the tour operator), as well as the traveller’s age and hobbies. It is also good to take regional differences into consideration: in some large countries, a disease may only be prevalent in certain parts of the country.
− A good source of information is the Traveller’s Health Guide (Matkailijan terveysopas, in Finnish) published by the Finnish Institute for Health and Welfare (THL), which can be accessed from the link Terveyskirjasto.fi. It alphabetically lists travelling destinations with a lot of useful information on vaccinations, says Carlson.
Children’s immunisations ahead of schedule
− Some of children’s immunisations should be given early prior to travelling. For example, the MMR vaccine against measles, mumps and rubella belongs to this group. According to the national vaccination programme, the MMR vaccine is given in two doses: the first one at the age of 12 months and the booster at the age of 6 years. If you travel between the two doses, an additional booster dose is given to two-year-old children, for example.
Restrictions during pregnancy
− The MMR vaccine is strictly forbidden during pregnancy because it contains live, attenuated rubella virus that can harm foetal development, says Carlson.
As the yellow fever vaccine also contains live viruses, it is only given with proper consideration. The tetanus and influenza vaccines, in contrast, can be given during pregnancy with no restrictions.
Malaria is especially dangerous during pregnancy. Carlson urges that anyone who is pregnant should avoid travelling to regions with prevalent malaria.
Immunisations are important for people with chronic diseases
Chronic diseases do not prevent getting vaccinated. However, Carlson does caution that certain diseases – such as cancer – weaken the immune response. This makes a person’s immune system less able than normal to protect the body from external pathogens. For example, the yellow fever vaccine contains live, attenuated yellow fever viruses, and there is a risk of these viruses themselves causing the disease. Influenza can be dangerous to immunocompromised people as well.
People with weakened immune response may exhibit a weaker response to vaccination (i.e., vaccine protective efficacy) but they should nevertheless get vaccinated.
− And, if one has a cardiovascular or pulmonary disease, it is all the more reason to get vaccinated, says Carlson.
COVID-19 vaccines are also still necessary, as COVID-19 may be dangerous to people with chronic diseases.
− It is recommendable to check the COVID-19 situation in the country and region where you are travelling. The mortality of COVID-19, which is over one percent, far surpasses that of influenza – it is 85 times higher compared to influenza, emphasises Carlson.
Exercise caution in regions with malaria
Malaria is spread when the malaria mosquito bites, allowing the malaria parasite to enter the bloodstream. A commonly used, effective vaccine has not yet been found for malaria.
− However, there is a medicine for the prevention and treatment of malaria that is available in pharmacies, explains Carlson.
− An important means of protection against malaria is to use a mosquito net impregnated with permethrin. You can also protect yourself by only using white or light-coloured clothes with sufficient skin coverage. You should not leave any skin uncovered. You can also use mosquito spray for protection. And, since malaria mosquitoes are only active during the evening and night, you should consider that when planning activities.
Additional vaccinations for immigrants if needed
In Finland, immigrants are given all the vaccines of the national vaccination programme. There are no restrictions unless the person is travelling to a country where separate vaccinations are required.
− The individual vaccines that are given to a person with immigrant background depend on their country of origin and whether they have already received any vaccinations in their own country. Some people have not received any vaccinations at all, whereas some do not know what they have received, recounts Carlson.
The national vaccination programme of Finland consists of two parts: a standard part that is the same for everyone and additional vaccinations given as needed to supplement the former part.
− For example, if a mother is hepatitis B positive, i.e., carrier of the hepatitis B virus, her child is also given the hepatitis B vaccine. Also, immigrants who originate from countries with high tuberculosis (TB) mortality may have been exposed to TB or other similar diseases that are no longer prevalent in Finland. In those cases, giving the TB vaccine may be warranted, explains Carlson.
In Finland, people are not left alone to take care of their additional vaccinations, as Carlson says that our country handles vaccine-related matters well.
There is a lot of information in Finnish, Swedish and English about vaccinations on THL’s website.
Text by: Leena Koskenlaakso