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Covid-19 international vaccine tourism taking off

In countries with a lot of Covid cases but few vaccines, some people are willing to chance going abroad to find a shot.

Staff Writers
2 minute read
Vaccines are plentiful in the US and some vaccination centres don't ask for proof of residence. Photo: AP
Vaccines are plentiful in the US and some vaccination centres don't ask for proof of residence. Photo: AP

Covid-19 vaccines have now been around for six months, and people with the time and money to do so are already jumping vaccine queues in their own country by flying off to get their antibodies elsewhere.

Vaccines are plentiful in the US and some vaccination centres don’t ask for proof of residence, so worried citizens of jab-strapped Latin American countries are taking the trip.

“We have arrived in the US not for the American dream, we are here for the vaccine dream,” Elver Estela told CNN. The businessman and some of his family had travelled from Peru looking for shots and got their first doses of Pfizer at a vaccination centre in Seattle.

Earlier this year, Estela had decided to travel to the US after seeing people close to him in Peru become sick with Covid-19 and vaccines very hard to find.

Some US states have started taking measures to restrict vaccines to their own taxpayers. Florida did this to stem the flow of Argentinians arriving just for the jab.

One country that has been looking at encouraging vaccine tourists is Russia, looking for customers for its Sputnik V vaccine.

In March there was talk of Lufthansa offering special vaccine flights, where the recipient would never have to leave the airport terminal in Moscow. Though this never got off the ground, the general idea is very much still alive.

CNBC reports that a three-week vaccine tour of Russia, with Sputnik doses being administered up to 20 days apart is under consideration. The cost should be between US$1500 and US$2500, excluding flights.

Analysts say that’s extremely competitive considering a three-week stay would have cost about the same during “before times”, and shows that the Russian tourism industry, as in other countries, is prepared to offer cut price deals to get people to visit again.

One fly in the ointment is that the Sputnik V vaccine has so far not been approved by the main Western regulators let alone the World Health Organization.

As a result, someone with a Sputnik vaccine could find international doors still closed.

However, some European countries do accept the vaccine as valid for entry. Cyprus, which relies on Russian holiday revellers, is open to anyone of any nationality with a Sputnik V shot.

In comparison, private members club the Knightsbridge Circle was offering vaccine tours to the UAE earlier this year. However, joining the Circle involves having to pay a US$40,000 membership fee before the subject of vaccines is even raised.