Yellow fever vaccine
What is it for?
This vaccine is given to people travelling to a country where yellow fever is present. The vaccine protects you against a potentially fatal infection with the yellow fever virus. The virus is carried by mosquitoes, and is spread to humans when you are bitten by an infected mosquito.
Yellow fever is common in many countries in Africa, and Central and South America. Vaccination is required for entry to some countries. You may be asked to show a special vaccination certificate as proof that you have received the yellow fever vaccine.
When you return to Australia, you may also be asked to present proof of vaccination if you have travelled to a country where there is yellow fever.
If you arrive back in Australia from a country where yellow fever is present and you have never had a yellow fever vaccine, you will be given a card while you are in the customs area asking you to report if you suffer any of the symptoms listed on the card immediately; the symptoms can occur for up to a week after your return.
Who should be vaccinated?
The yellow fever vaccination is recommended for:
- adults and children older than 9 months travelling to, or living in, countries where yellow fever is present
- people who work with the yellow fever virus in laboratories.
You should have the vaccination at least 10 days before you travel to allow enough time for you to become immune and for any side effects to emerge.
Immunity will last about 10 years, so people who need ongoing protection against yellow fever should have a booster if they have not been vaccinated against yellow fever in the previous 10 years.
Even if you have been vaccinated against yellow fever, travellers should protect themselves against being bitten by mosquitoes - especially during the day.
The yellow fever vaccine is not given to children who are younger than 9 months old, as they are more at risk of the side effects of the vaccine (e.g. encephalitis) than older children. If your child is younger than 9 months old and they will be travelling to a country where yellow fever is present, seek medical advice.
The yellow fever vaccination is not given to people who:
- have a weakened immune system (e.g. due to HIV infection or medicines)
- people with a thymus condition or who have damaged thymus
- are pregnant or breastfeeding (see below)
- have had a serious reaction to the vaccine (e.g. anaphylactic shock).
These groups are at increased risk of side effects of the vaccination.
People 60 years and older
Side effects of the yellow fever vaccine are more common in people who are older than 60 years. Seek medical advice before having the vaccination.
For more information, read the Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing fact sheet on yellow fever.
The yellow fever vaccine is not usually recommended for pregnant women. Avoid travelling to countries where yellow fever is present, if possible. However if you have to travel and your risk of catching yellow fever is high, the vaccine can be given during pregnancy.
Read more about what vaccines you can have if you are pregnant.
Women who are breastfeeding
The yellow fever vaccine is a live vaccine. This means that it contains a weakened version of the yellow fever virus. There have been a few reports that yellow fever virus can pass into breast milk, and so if you are breastfeeding and you have not previously been vaccinated, vaccination is not recommended. However, if you must travel and you are breastfeeding and your risk of catching yellow fever is high, you should be vaccinated.
Babies cannot be vaccinated safely until they are older than 9 months. If possible, postpone travelling to countries where yellow fever is present until your child can be vaccinated. Ask your doctor for advice before travelling.
Common side effects that may affect 1 to 10 in every 100 people include:
- mild headache
- muscle pain (myalgia)
Read more about vaccine side effects and safety.
Who can I ask about side effects?
If you’re concerned that you or your child may have had side effects related to a vaccine, seek medical advice. To report and discuss possible side effects, call the Adverse Medicines Events (AME) Line on 1300 134 237 from anywhere in Australia (Monday–Friday, 9am–5pm AEST).
- Rossi S, ed. eAMH [online]. Adelaide: Australian Medicines Handbook, January 2013.
- Australian Government Department of Health and Ageing. Office of Health Protection. 4.23 Yellow fever. In: The Australian Immunisation Handbook, 10th edn. www.immunise.health.gov.au/internet/immunise/publishing.nsf/Content/handbook10-4-23