Unpredictable checks of yellow fever vaccination certificates upon arrival in Tanzania

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Background Yellow fever (YF) is a mosquito-borne disease, which can be prevented by vaccination. While YF vaccination (YFV) is not generally recommended for travellers to Tanzania, proof of YFV may be required upon arrival. In April 2013, the World Health Organization concluded that one dose of YFV confers lifelong protection and countries have started to adapt their entry requirements. The traveller’s consultant has to balance the risk of YFV and the risk of encountering problems when entering a country without a valid YFV, especially because countries are slowly implementing the requirements.

Methods We performed a survey among 421 travellers to Tanzania with a pre-travel consultation at the Travel Clinic of the University of Zurich about their experiences with YFV certificate inspections upon arrival in Tanzania between January and November 2015.

Results There were three main findings: (i) most vaccine card checks were done while crossing the land border of Tanzania. Inspections were frequently conducted at Arusha airport, less often in Dar es Salaam and Zanzibar. In the latter a significantly larger percentage of individuals arriving by ferry/boat were checked than those arriving by plane. (ii) Checks appeared to be non-systematic. They were also performed in travellers who did not enter Tanzania from a YF-endemic country. No seasonal or daytime pattern could be identified; the thoroughness of checks varied widely. (iii) In the case of travel without valid YFV, an exemption certificate was always accepted. In travellers with neither a valid YFV nor an exemption certificate, travellers reported forced YF vaccination and fines before entry was granted.

Conclusions We recommend YFV or a YF exemption certificate for all travellers to Tanzania until further notice. The decision of whether to vaccinate against YF or to issue an exemption should be based on exposure risk to YF infection in other countries during travel.

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