This article gives an informative list of the vaccines necessary for traveling to China, East Asia and Southeast Asia.
Vaccines for Asia – Table of Contents
Before anything else, it is essential that you book an appointment with a specialist doctor at an approved international vaccination center or at a travel clinic (many public and private hospitals have one), preferably two months in advance of your departure date.
These are the only types of centers where you will receive up-to-date and detailed advice on all of the vaccines recommended for your trip.
General situation of vaccines
I’m sure you can remember some of the controversies around vaccination that have arisen over the past decades. In the mid-1990s, a renowned British scientist concluded that the measles vaccine could trigger diseases such as autism or colitis.
Despite the fact that he was accused of data falsification and fraud in 2010, he currently has thousands of followers who support him across the globe, through the ever-expanding anti-vaccine movement.
However, official bodies such as the WHO, the pharmaceutical industry, the scientific community, and governments actively support and promote vaccination, in line with the conclusions of the latest science on the subject.
If we cast aside the political and economic interests that can be hidden behind these types of scandals, on the individual level, it is important to consider the risks of not getting vaccinated for potentially lethal diseases before making any decision.
You also have to keep in mind that some vaccinations are subject to international regulations, such as the yellow fever vaccine. This means that countries have the power to require visitors to demonstrate that they have been vaccinated in accordance with national regulations if they want to enter the country.
This vaccine is only given at authorized international vaccination centers (check here for the list of centers in US), which provide you with an international vaccination certificate (also called a “yellow card”) recognized across the globe.
In any event, you will have to set aside a portion of your budget for vaccines, but keep in mind that the majority of these are for life, and in the worst case, you will have to remember to get a booster shot after a few years.
On the other hand, a distinction must be made between ordinary vaccination (the vaccination normally provided by governments following a specific schedule) and international vaccination (which is done when people go to another country).
Although there are slight variations, the vaccines normally given to the population in the majority of countries are the following: hepatitis B, diphtheria, tetanus, whooping cough, polio, measles, rubella, and chickenpox.
It is very important to possess and periodically go over both vaccination histories (ordinary and international). Keep in mind that a large quantity of money and effort continues to be invested in improving existing vaccines and creating new ones.
Sometimes new evidence is published recommending changes in the period of effectiveness of a vaccine or in the frequency at which booster shots should be given, for example. Because of this, before any international trip, you should consider booking an appointment with a specialist to check that you are up-to-date with all of your vaccines.
Most common international vaccines for traveling to East Asia and Southeast Asia
|Disease||Transmission method||Type of vaccine||Recommendation|
|Cholera||Food and water||Oral||Only if you travel to endemic areas|
|Typhoid fever||Food and water||Oral/injectable||All types of travelers|
|Hepatitis A||Food and water||Injectable||All types of travelers|
|Hepatitis B||Vertical (mother-child), sexual and blood||Injectable||All types of travelers|
|Rabies||Bites of certain animals (monkeys, dogs…)||Injectable (pre- and post-exposure)||Only for trips to areas where there is a risk of exposure to these animals|
|Tetanus||Via skin wounds and mucus||Injectable||All types of travelers|
|Japanese encephalitis||Mosquito bites||Injectable||Depends on your itinerary|
|Meningococcal meningitis||Inhaled||Injectable||For certain exceptional situations|
This table shows the vaccines recommended for traveling to Asia by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the leading institution in the world in terms of international vaccination.
To summarize, the most commonly recommended vaccines are typhoid fever, tetanus, and hepatitis A and B. The latter is routinely given in many countries, but in any case, carefully go over your medical records and vaccination cards.
If you are not up to date, the best thing to do is to check with your family doctor. It’s possible to find out which vaccines you have through a blood test (which looks for the presence of antibodies).
Returning to the table, whether or not to get optional vaccines will depend on your itinerary, the duration of your trip, the sanitary conditions of your destination country, your age and your state of health, as well as the type of trip you are planning (adventure, business, volunteer work, family, etc.).
Because of this, it’s important to manage your vaccines long enough in advance, because in addition to potential waiting lists at authorized centers, some vaccines take up to three weeks to become effective.
Because of this, as suggested at the beginning of this article, the best thing is to start the procedure two months before your trip.
Other diseases to consider
This is a notifiable disease according to international regulations and is transmitted via the bite of an infected mosquito. “Notifiable” means that it is necessary to demonstrate that you are vaccinated to enter certain countries.
China and countries in Southeast Asia require travelers coming from countries endemic with yellow fever to present their international vaccination card containing the vaccination against this tropical illness at customs.
Because the vaccine takes ten days to become effective, vaccination is only considered legal once this time period has elapsed. Currently, a single injectable dose gives immunity for your entire life.
This is a disease that affects almost all tropical countries, including those of Southeast Asia and some of the southern provinces of China (but not Hong Kong and Macau). Just like yellow fever, it is transmitted through mosquito bites, but as opposed to yellow fever, there is currently no effective vaccine available for it.
What does exist is a preventive medication that can help mitigate the symptoms of malaria (in the event of infection). However, you should be aware that even by taking this medication, the possibility of developing malaria is not eliminated completely.
Another thing to keep in mind is that the strains of the parasite that cause illness vary from one region to another. Therefore, your route should be as clearly defined as possible in order for you to inform the international vaccination center of it.
This center is the only place where you will get precise recommendations on the prophylactic treatment of choice for the strain that you may encounter along your itinerary.
On the other hand, the majority of urban areas in the region are malaria-free. Therefore, if there isn’t a tangible risk, it’s most likely that your doctor won’t prescribe this treatment for you. The dosage schedule is strict and is followed before, during and after the trip, and the treatment is known for its side effects.
This is a viral infection once again transmitted by mosquito bites. It is also present in the majority of countries in Southeast Asia. It does not have a vaccine, and prevention is exclusively based on protection against mosquito bites.
This virus is fairly similar to the dengue virus. Zika also carries the recommendation that pregnant women abstain from traveling to countries where cases of Zika have been recorded. The transmission of the virus to fetal blood can cause irreversible damage.
Currently, there is no vaccine for the new coronavirus (COVID-19). However, and due to the global impact that this epidemic is having, the epicenter of which is in Wuhan (China), the scientific community is currently searching for an effective vaccine.
In any event, it is not expected to see the light of day for at least a year. Up until then, people are recommended to take extreme measures to avoid contagion, which takes place via inhalation. These measures include avoiding traveling to areas that are active hotbeds of disease transmission.
Currently, countries in Southeast Asia do not have restrictions on travelers related to the coronavirus. In any event, and considering the speed at which the virus is propagating, it is a good idea to confirm the current number of cases in the country that you plan to visit.
Last of all, you should keep in mind that some countries are applying restrictions to travelers coming from China. Therefore, check the order of your itinerary to avoid problems at customs.
Precautions after your trip
Some infectious diseases do not present immediately, and can even show up a long time after you go back home. For any symptoms, it’s best to go to your family doctor and inform them of your itinerary and the dates of all of your trips over the past 12 months.