Yellow Fever Vaccine Shortage Could Affect Your Travels

After a series of yellow fever outbreaks erupted around the world recently, the United States is set to experience a drastic shortage of the lifesaving vaccine that thwarts its spread. Because many countries require that travelers receive the vaccine before entering, the inevitable scarcity could add a layer of complication for vacationers. And officials from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are warning that, depending on where you're headed, the yellow fever vaccine shortage could affect your family's summer vacation, and it's important to start thinking about this sooner rather than later.

"Take heed of our warning: Plan ahead," CDC spokesperson Tom Skinner told NPR. "It may be difficult to get this vaccine. And if you can't get it, then you should postpone your trip."

According to The Washington Post, outbreaks of yellow fever in Angola, the Democratic Republic of Congo and Brazil — as well as an epidemic in Uganda — within the past year have stretched supplies of the vaccine thin. That, coupled with a publicly undefined manufacturing problem that the only manufacturer that sells it in the United States experienced, means that vaccines here could run out by July.

As a result, the CDC will offer a version of the drug that is licensed in France as an emergency measure. Doing so will require additional monitoring. So, the vaccine will soon be available in only 252 clinics nationwide, not the normal 4,000.

Christopher Furlong/Getty Images News/Getty Images

Yellow fever is spread through mosquito bites. According to STAT News, an initial phase of fever, headache, backache, muscle pains, loss of appetite, and nausea or vomiting generally subsides within a few days. But for 15 percent of those who are infected, a relapse ushers in a "toxic phase" of more severe illness soon after — and about half of those people ultimately die. Needless to say, it can be incredibly dangerous for vacationers to visit a country where they could catch the illness without the proper vaccines.

Of the 18 countries that require that travelers be vaccinated before entering, most are in sub-Saharan Africa, but some countries in South America as well as French Guiana fall into this category, according to STAT News. There are 25 others — in South and Central America and Africa — where it's recommended that travelers be vaccinated before arrival. Yellow fever vaccines last for 10 years.

According to the CDC, people between the ages of 9 months and 59 years should be vaccinated for yellow fever if they live in or are traveling to a country where contracting it is a risk. Infants who are younger than 9 months old, though, are at a greater risk of experiencing complications from the vaccines. For example, they are more likely to develop encephalitis, which includes flu-like symptoms like fever and severe headache, as a result.

So, the Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices simply advises against travel to "areas within the yellow fever–endemic zone" for babies that young. In other words, the impending yellow vaccine shortage should change anything for very young infants in terms of much international summer travel, as they should not be going to some countries anyhow.

Anyone older than that headed to countries like Ghana, Guyana, and Sierra Leone needs to act ASAP to ensure they have the correct vaccinations to stay safe outside the United States.