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VFR’s skipping vaccines believing they are immune to diseases

Australian travellers visiting friends and relatives (VFR’s) in countries with endemic disease are taking the biggest health risks, warns new research just released.

Sanofi Pasteur has just released new research showing that VFR’s are significantly less likely than other travellers to get vaccinations, yet they have the highest risk of infection.

The survey, the third since 2003 conducted by Sanofi Pasteur asking travellers about their travel health decisions, found that up to 86 per cent of VFR’s are not getting appropriately vaccinated when travelling to countries with high risk of disease including, Asia and India where Yellow Fever.

Hepatitis A and Typhoid are common. This was in comparison to 73 per cent of travellers who were travelling for other reasons including holiday, leisure or business.

With cheaper and more available flights departing the country every day, Australians can maintain ties now more than ever with overseas relatives. It is estimated that almost 6.9 million?Australians will have travelled to visit family and friends overseas in the last five years.

The research suggested that almost one in three (29%) travellers believe that Australians visiting friends and relatives in developing countries are less likely to become sick during their stay, compared to those who aren’t visiting friends and relatives.

National Medical Advisor for Travel Doctor – TMVC, Dr Tony Gherardin, said: “Many people visiting friends and relatives tend to not see the need for vaccination because they believe that they are in familiar territory. However, typically VFR’s will take advantage of free accommodation, staying in homes instead of hotels. This directly exposes them to the local lifestyle that often implies lack of water and food precautions that put travellers at risk for infection.”

While it is true that locals can build up a genetic protection to diseases common in their country, the survey also found that more than one in four (28%) of travellers believe that Australians who have ancestors from developing countries are likely to have that same genetic protection to diseases which are common in that country.

“VFR’s tend to disregard health warnings as they believe their heritage and connection with the region gives them some kind of immunity. The reality is these immunities won’t stay intact after years of separation from an area. If you live in a new country or area for long enough, your body begins to adapt to the new environment, making you susceptible to contracting vaccine preventable diseases,” said Dr Gherardin.

While Australian healthcare professionals are already doing a lot to ensure widespread coverage of vaccinations and general travel health awareness, the findings of the survey suggest that more needs to be done to facilitate uptake of pre-­?travel health advice and engaging with VFR’s about the importance of vaccinations prior to travel.

“Healthcare professionals play a pivotal role in identifying VFR’s and educating them about diseases, ensuring they have all the necessary information to make an informed decision about their health prior to travel. The difficulty is engaging with VFR’s who will not actively discuss travel health. Healthcare professionals may wish to consider proactive opportunities to consult with VFR’s about vaccinations and travel health when they are presenting for other health reasons,” Dr Gherardin said.

Compared with tourist travellers, VFR’s are less likely to seek travel health advice, but despite many VFR’s skipping vaccines the majority (88%) of Australian travellers believe that vaccinations are worthwhile to consider before they travel.

Dr Gherardin concluded: “It’s reassuring to know that the bulk of Australian travellers do believe that vaccines are worthwhile. The challenge now for healthcare professionals is to make sure that all travellers, particularly VFR’s who believe they are immune from disease, are educated about the benefits of travel vaccinations and the risks of not taking the necessary precautions.”


About the survey

The study was conducted among 1,042 Australians aged 18+ years who had travelled overseas in the last 5 years. Surveys were distributed throughout Australia including both capital  city  and  non­capital  city  areas.   Fieldwork commenced on Friday, September 21 and was completed on Monday, September 24, 2012.

This study was conducted online amongst members of a permission-based panel. After interviewing, data was weighted to the latest population estimates sourced from the Australian Bureau of Statistics.



Lonergan Research, Travel Vaccine Report

Leder K et al. Illness in travellers visiting friends and relatives: A review of the GeoSentinel Surveillance Network. Clin  Infect  Dis  2006;  43:  1185-­?93

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Alana Lowes

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