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Inoculation while on vacation: The rise of ‘vaccine tours’

By PINKY S. ICAMEN Published May 07, 2021 7:07 pm

With the pandemic halting travel for leisure, it’s  not surprising that now that the world is slowly opening up, affluent travel-deprived individuals who also want to secure a jab for themselves are seeking places where they can get inoculated ahead of their country’s vaccine rollouts or due to their slow vaccination programs.

As early as January, when the COVID-19 vaccine first started to be available in the United States, travel agencies from countries like India, and at present Thailand, have been offering “vaccine tour” packages with the lure of inoculation while on vacation. 

Some Thai travel agencies are reportedly offering COVID-19 vaccine tours for those who are eager to get their vaccines prior to Thailand’s vaccination drive set in June, according to Reuters.

Vaccine tourism is legal in the US but according to Visa Place, if you are travelling to the US to get inoculated, you have to know that you may still not get it despite travel agencies' promises.

One tour operator, called Unithai Trip, provides packages to either San Francisco, Los Angeles or New York, which cost between $2,400 and $6,400 (P115,000 and P307,000). The prices are said to fluctuate depending on the gap between doses.

Another Thai travel agency, My Journey Travel, offers a 10-day trip to San Francisco for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine shot. The agency reportedly received hundreds of calls in three days for the tour package. 

Meanwhile, NBC News reported in early January that travel agencies in India also announced similar tours, one from a company called Gem Tours & Travels, which offered a four-day trip package from Mumbai to New York City, inclusive of a jab, for $2,000 (P96,000).

As the demand for vaccines in the US has seen a decline in recent weeks, those who can afford to fly into the country to get vaccinated are taking the opportunity to do so. This reportedly includes wealthy Canadians, Brazilians and Venezuelans who flock to Florida to get inoculated.

Currently, the United States is said to be producing and distributing more COVID-19 vaccines than anywhere in the world.

In most countries around the world, like the Philippines, priority groups include healthcare workers, senior citizens and people with comorbidities. While in the US, everyone over 16 years old are already being vaccinated.

Rules on vaccine tourism are reportedly only loosely monitored in the US. Currently, each state has its own rules and procedures for distributing the vaccine. For example, Alabama, Arizona, California, Colorado, Maryland, Nevada, Texas and Virginia give COVID-19 jabs to non-residents of their states. While states that require residency but are open to people who work there are Washington, Florida, Georgia and Connecticut.

Some states are welcoming vaccine tourism, including Alaska, which will give free vaccines to tourists starting in June. To make sure that the tourism in the state will have the opportunity to get back to where it was, Alaska Gov. Mike Dunleavy said,  "The idea is if we have excess vaccines, why not use them? So what we're saying to our tourists is… if you come to Alaska, you get a free vaccination if you want one."

With the rise of the vaccine tourism in the US, some may ask, is it even legal? 

According to immigration firm Visa Place, if one has a visa or is allowed to legally visit the US, then it is legal. However, there is no guarantee that one will get the shot despite the promises of the vaccine tours.

So for those who would like to go on a "vaccine tour," the firm has this to say, “There is nothing in place by the (US) government that can promise you a COVID-19 vaccine shot. If you are traveling to the US for a shot, you will have to know that you may not get it."