Travel vaccinations for babies and toddlers

The good news is that the standard vaccinations your baby will receive at the age of two months, three months, four months and 12 months will protect her from a lot of the diseases you might come across when travelling. That said, there are of course plenty of further flung destinations for which additional travel vaccinations are recommended. The advice for older children, as for adults, is to make an appointment with your GP or practice nurse six to eight weeks before departure to ensure that everyone is up-to-date with travel vaccinations, but for babies and toddlers it’s worth having that conversation before you book the trip as some vaccines can only be given above a certain age.

Here are a few common travel vaccines and antimalarials, along with their lower age limits (helpfully provided by a doctor friend – thanks Anna!), that I hope might be helpful for the purposes of advance trip planning. For example, if hepatitis A is a major risk in a destination you’re considering visiting, but your baby is less than a year old, you might want to postpone that particular trip until she’s old enough to be vaccinated for hepatitis A. It’s important to stress here that I’m not a medical professional so this information is for guidance only.

A baby receives a vaccination
“Vaccine Reaction, Double Exposure” by Teddy Kwok is licensed under CC BY 2.0

Travel vaccines:

Hepatitis A – from 12-months-old
Typhoid – from 24-months-old
Yellow fever – from six-months-old; given between the ages of six and nine months only during major outbreaks
Japanese encephalitis – from two-months-old
Combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) –from nine-months-old

Antimalarial medications:

Malarone – not recommended for children weighing less than 11kg
Doxycycline – not recommended for children
Mefloquine (Lariam) – not recommended for children weighing less than 5kg

Travelling without vaccinations

A baby receives a vaccination
“P1030972” by Daniel Hatton is licensed under CC BY 2.0

If you want to travel with your baby before she’s received the standard NHS vaccinations, it’s a matter of weighing up the risks of the trip against its benefits. When planning our first proper adventure with the baby girl – to the northern Spanish city of Santiago di Compostela when she was six-weeks-old – we reasoned that although she would not have been immunised by the time of the trip, she was at no higher risk of infection in Santiago than she was in London. By the time of our next adventure – 10 days in Goa a few months later – we had to do that risk/benefit calculation again as we considered the dangers of taking the baby girl away before she had received the combined measles, mumps and rubella (MMR) vaccine. Again, we decided that the destination didn’t present very much of an increased risk, so away we went.

In the case of trips to destinations where a particular disease is a risk but a vaccine isn’t available, talk to your doctor or nurse about preventative measures. This might mean only drinking and brushing your teeth with bottled water, for example, or protecting against mosquito bites with the help of repellents and nets. I’ll be covering how to deal with mosquitos in an separate post – sign up for the mailing list so you don’t miss it.

Buying travel insurance for your baby or toddler

The good news is that a lot of travel insurance policies cover children for free (some up to the age of two, some right up until 16 or 18). The bad news is that even if yours does, you still need to get in touch with your insurer before you travel to ensure that your baby or toddler is included on the policy by name. You’ll need to give them your baby’s date of birth too, and tell them about any pre-existing medical conditions – epilepsy, for example – as these might affect the premium. Children insured for free are usually only covered when travelling with the policyholder, so check with your insurer if you’re planning on sending your toddler off with another family member.

If you’re buying a new policy, you’ll include your child’s details in the same way that you would your partner’s when buying a couple’s policy. Something to look out for is whether the policy covers cancellation in the case of one of the travellers falling ill before departure. Fingers crossed your toddler doesn’t come down with a horrible bug on the eve of a holiday, but if she does, and going ahead with the trip is impossible, you really don’t want to lose all the money you spent on flights, hotel, car hire, etc – the cancellation of the trip would be grim enough all by itself; you don’t want to compound it with financial stress too. It’s worth buying travel insurance as soon as you book your trip so you don’t run the risk of being caught without coverage.

Most insurers will need to see a medical certificate signed by your child’s GP stating the reason she can’t travel, before they agree to settle the claim, as well as a form from the doctor about your child’s medical history.

A lot of policies will cover you for travel within the UK (including cancellations due to illness) but there are often stipulations you need to meet – such as staying away from home for a minimum number of days, or travelling a minimum distance from home – before coverage kicks in. Check before you travel.

For travel within Europe, you’ll want to get a EHIC for your child, but I’ll cover that in a separate post. Sign up to the mailing list so you don’t miss it.

A blonde baby sits on a pebbly beach, looking out over a bay with crystal clear water
There’s no interesting way of illustrating the purchase of travel insurance, so here’s a picture of the baby girl enjoying herself at Mgarr ix-Xini on the Maltese island of Gozo in November 2017 instead.