It’s the topic of the year: Did you get one of the COVID vaccines? If so, you’ve got that little white card to prove it. But what about the rest of the vaccines you’ve had in your lifetime? Do you have a record of those? Somewhere? Do you know where?
Getting vaccinated against any illness is 100% a personal decision. I’m not writing this post to make a statement about whether you should or shouldn’t get any vaccines. This is not a political statement, it’s simply to inform travelers about how to keep up with their travel vaccines, should they choose to get any. I want you to make the best informed choices for you, but I am not the person to tell you what your personal decision should be.
*I am not a medical professional. Please consult your doctor or nurse practitioner with specific questions. I do, however, recommend reading this post whether or not you intend to get any vaccines for home or for travel, if only for informational purposes. Some of the information might surprise you. Plus, knowledge is power!
What is a Yellow Card?
Its full title is the “international certificate of vaccination or prophylaxis” (medicine intended to prevent a disease, such as malaria pills to prevent malaria). It’s a travel document that is best kept with your passport and taken with you to a medical facility whenever you get a vaccine. I took mine with me to get my COVID-19 vaccines, and both nurses who administered them were happy to fill in the information for me. A yellow card is not a “vaccine passport,” which has become a hot topic steeped in controversy in recent months.
The WHO (World Health Organization) and CDC (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) have lists of which vaccines they recommend (not require) for travelers who want to visit any given country. To help travelers keep up with which vaccines they’ve had, the WHO created a “yellow card” to be filled in whenever a traveler receives a vaccine.
Related: What to Do if You Get Sick on Travel
Why is it Yellow?
Partly because the color makes it easy to see, and thus, easy to keep up with. But a contributing factor is because yellow fever is a vaccine often required to visit countries where that particular disease is endemic (regularly found in a region). Yellow fever is endemic in sub-Saharan Africa and the northern half of South America.
Essential info: How to Prepare for Your First Trip Since the Pandemic Started
Why Do I Need a Yellow Card?
Aside from the yellow fever vaccine, your yellow card has plenty of space for your vaccination record. Typical vaccines or prophylactics travelers might consider include, but are not limited to: Rabies, hepatitis A or B, typhoid fever, malaria, polio, TDAP (tetanus-diphtheria-pertussis), MMR (measles-mumps-rubella), and now, COVID-19. Some of these are diseases we don’t have a problem with in the United States, like malaria or polio, but they are still problematic in other countries.
On a personal note, my maternal grandmother, who lived in the United States all her life, had polio as a child. As a result, she lived almost her whole life with one leg shorter than the other. She also contracted malaria while working in the state of Georgia during World War II, which was not treated properly the first time around, so it plagued her throughout the rest of her life. I feel thankful that, because of mid-20th century vaccines, these illnesses are no longer a problem in the United States. I’m also well aware of how privileged I am to have the choice of whether or not I decide to get these vaccines myself.
For more about travel vaccines, how long they’re valid, and more, check out my Ultimate Guide to Travel Immunizations.
What Info is in the Card?
Your yellow card will have your name, address, and country of residence on the front. Inside, you’ll find instructions for both travelers and physicians, information for travelers, and a note about yellow fever. You’ll also find a place to fill in your passport number, gender, birth date, and nationality.
When fully unfolded, you’ll find 21 lines for vaccine information, including the date of vaccination, name of vaccination, dose, and physician’s signature.
Next is a place to list a medical contraindication (pronounced like “contra-indicate” and is a condition that makes a vaccination inadvisable) to a vaccination. This could be an allergy to an ingredient in the recommended vaccine or a medical condition that makes getting a vaccine risky.
Below that, you’ll find a place for your personal health history, including your state of health, medical treatments, or known sensitivities. Below that is a place to list your regularly taken medications. And finally, there’s a section for ophthalmic information–whether you wear glasses or contacts.
Related: Your Ultimate Guide to Passports
How Do I Get One?
I got my yellow card from a nearby Passport Health office when I got my first travel vaccines in 2015. There are several locations in the D.C. area for anyone who also lives in the “DMV.” If there is not a Passport Health office near you, simply Google “where to get travel vaccines near me,” or ask your pharmacist or doctor.
Read on: My Post-COVID Travel Bucket List
The yellow card helps travelers remember which vaccines they’ve had, and provides proof of vaccination for countries where certain vaccines are required for entry.
Want more? Check out my Health and Wellness Page for all my best tips for traveling well, staying well, and taking care of your health on travel.
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