Yellow Fever Vaccine

HealthLinkBC File Number: 
Travel Series
Last Updated: 
January 2015

Travel vaccines are recommended if you travel to or work in some countries. Discuss your travel plans with a public health unit, a travel clinic, or your health care provider at least 6 to 8 weeks before you travel.

Most travel vaccines are not covered by the provincial medical services plan (MSP), so check with your local travel clinic to find out the cost.

Bring a record of all vaccines you have received in the past to the travel clinic. Keep a record of the travel vaccines you receive and take this with you on your trip.

What is yellow fever vaccine?

Yellow fever vaccine helps protect against the yellow fever virus. Yellow fever is a viral disease spread by infected mosquitoes. The vaccine is approved by Health Canada.

Who should get the vaccine?

If you are travelling to or working in tropical areas of Africa or Central and South America, you may need to get the vaccine. Talk to your health care provider or travel clinic for more information.

For a list of yellow fever vaccination centres in B.C., visit the Public Health Agency of Canada at

The vaccine is also recommended for workers routinely exposed to the yellow fever virus, such as certain researchers and lab employees.

Adults and children 9 months of age and older can receive the vaccine, which is given as 1 dose or shot.

It will take 10 days for the vaccine to work and provide protection from yellow fever. Travel to tropical areas should not begin before this time.

Vaccine protection lasts at least 10 years. An extra dose of vaccine is required every 10 years if travel or work continues in areas where the virus is found.

After you get the vaccine, you will receive a stamped document called the International Certificate of Vaccination or Prophylaxis. This document is an official record and a legal requirement for entry into some countries. If you cannot receive the yellow fever vaccine due to a medical reason, you will need written documentation on official letterhead from your health care provider or a Certificate of Medical Contraindication to Vaccination from a travel clinic. The letter or certificate should state the medical reason why the vaccine could not be given.

Without the certificate or your health care provider’s letter, you may be refused entry to the country you are visiting, or you may be given the vaccine at the port of entry of the country you are visiting. In some countries, immunization practices may not be ideal.

The following people should only get the yellow fever vaccine when travel to high-risk areas cannot be postponed, and a high level of prevention against mosquito bites is not possible:

  • People 60 years of age and older. These people may have a slightly increased risk of multiple organ system failure after getting the vaccine.
  • People with a serious type of multiple sclerosis (MS). Yellow fever vaccine may make MS worse if you have a serious kind. Make sure the health care provider that is giving you the yellow fever vaccine knows if you have MS.

What are the benefits of the vaccine?

The yellow fever vaccine is the best way to protect against the yellow fever virus, a serious and sometimes fatal infection.. For more information on preventing mosquito bites, see HealthLinkBC File #41f Malaria Prevention.

What are possible reactions after the vaccine?

Vaccines are very safe. It is much safer to get the vaccine than to get yellow fever. Common reactions to the vaccine may include soreness, redness or swelling where the shot was given. A mild headache, slight fever, or aching muscles lasting 1 or 2 days can occur 5 to 10 days after getting the vaccine.

Acetaminophen (e.g. Tylenol®) or ibuprofen* (e.g. Advil®) can be given for fever or soreness. ASA (e.g. Aspirin®) should not be given to anyone under 18 years of age due to the risk of Reye Syndrome.
*Ibuprofen should not be given to children under 6 months of age without first speaking to your health care provider.

For more information on Reye Syndrome, see HealthLinkBC File #84 Reye Syndrome.

It is important to stay in the clinic for 15 minutes after getting any vaccine because there is an extremely rare possibility of a life-threatening allergic reaction called anaphylaxis. This may include hives, difficulty breathing, or swelling of the throat, tongue or lips. If this happens after you leave the clinic, call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number. This reaction can be treated, and occurs in less than 1 in a million people who get the vaccine.

It is important to always report serious or unexpected reactions to your health care provider.

Who should not get the vaccine?

The following people should not get the vaccine:

  • children less than 9 months of age; and
  • people with a history of thymus disease or disorder, including myasthenia gravis, thymoma, thymectomy, or DiGeorge syndrome. These people have an increased risk of multiple organ system failure after getting the vaccine. The size of the risk is not currently known.

Speak with a travel clinic or health care provider if you have:

  • had a life-threatening reaction to a previous dose of yellow fever vaccine, or any component of the vaccine including gelatin, or to latex;
  • a serious allergy to eggs;
  • an immune system weakened by disease or medical treatment;
  • severe immunodeficiency due to symptomatic HIV/AIDS or other causes; or if you are pregnant or breastfeeding.

What is yellow fever?

Yellow fever is a serious and life-threatening infection caused by a virus. For every 10 people who get sick, up to 4 will die. Symptoms include sudden onset of fever, chills, headache, backache, all-over muscle pain, nausea, and vomiting. In serious cases, you may bleed from your nose, mouth, and intestine. You may also have liver and kidney failure. Currently, there is no drug treatment for the disease.

Yellow fever virus is spread to people by the bite of infected mosquitoes that live in the tropical areas of Africa, and Central and South America. The virus cannot be spread from person to person, or by mosquitoes in Canada.

Mature Minor Consent

It is recommended that parents or guardians and their children discuss consent for immunization. Efforts are first made to seek parental/guardian or representative consent prior to immunization. However, children under the age of 19, who are able to understand the benefits and possible reactions for each vaccine and the risk of not getting immunized, can legally consent to or refuse immunizations.

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Is it an emergency?

If you or someone in your care has chest pains, difficulty breathing, or severe bleeding, it could be a life-threatening emergency. Call 9-1-1 or the local emergency number immediately.
If you are concerned about a possible poisoning or exposure to a toxic substance, call Poison Control now at 1-800-567-8911.

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