Health Considerations When Adopting from Overseas
Adopting a new baby brings rewards as well as medical responsibilities.
Adopting a new baby brings rewards as well as medical responsibilities.

Families traveling to adopt a new family member must take special health precautions to prevent unnecessary illness for themselves and for their newest bundle of joy.

In 2012, approximately 8,600 infants and children were adopted from overseas by U.S. parents, a large decline over previous years when foreign governments were more accepting of the practice. The majority of these children come from Asian nations such as Cambodia, China, India, Korea, the Philippines and Vietnam; Latin America (e.g. Guatemala and Colombia), and Eastern Europe (e.g. Romania, Russia and Ukraine). However, with strict anti-adoption measures being taken by several governments, there will be fewer children being brought to the US from China, Russia and Korea in the future.

Ensuring the Health of Adoptive Children

Nevertheless, to complete an international adoption and bring an infant or a child into the U.S., a prospective parent or parents must fulfill the requirements set by the U.S. Immigration and Naturalization Service (INS), the foreign country in which the infant or child resides and sometimes the state of residence of the adoptive parent or parents.

From a health standpoint, these children often have inaccurate immunization records. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, they are frequently not immune to diseases for which vaccines were allegedly given.

When a 1997 law went into effect requiring all immigrants to be vaccinated against communicable diseases — hepatitis B, measles, mumps, pertussis (whooping cough), polio and rubella — before entering this country, it had the unintended consequence of posing serious health risks for the adoptees. Many of the children had to receive their vaccinations in countries known for their poor health services and poor quality vaccines. In some cases, vaccinations were recorded but not given.

This U.S. Immigration law has been amended. Now foreign-born children younger than the age of 10 years (more than 95% of all international adoptees) will no longer have to be immunized before entering this country. Instead, parents must certify that their children will receive the immunizations within 30 days of arrival.

Tips for International Adoptions

Parents contemplating adopting children from overseas, especially those adopting from Eastern Europe, Latin America and Southeast Asia, should be advised to start their own hepatitis B vaccination series as soon as they begin the adoption process.

Full immunization requires three injections over six months. Sometimes the schedule can be shortened to two months. The incidence of hepatitis B is relatively high in the regions mentioned and few children are vaccinated against the disease.

Children living in orphanages are especially at risk, and very few are vaccinated. Moreover, most American adults have not had the illness and few are vaccinated. Adult caretakers of the child and siblings-to-be may also benefit from vaccination.

In addition, hepatitis A and influenza immunizations should be considered for parents before travel and other destination-specific health measures should be followed according to the guidelines of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

More resources for the prospective adoptive parents include: the U.S. Department of State and the Immigration and Naturalization Service. Other sources of information for prospective adoptive parents include the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP).

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