The whole world is reeling under the brutal second wave of the corona, and the vaccine seems to be the only ray of hope among all. Vaccine tourism is all about the movement of people to other countries or states to get a jab for COVID-19. Vaccine tourism is springing up globally through private clubs and tour operators. It is a new concept when either vaccine is not available or people are waiting for their turn for vaccination. The affluent class is jumping the queue and traveling to nations like Russia or Dubai to get their jabs against corona.
When the vaccine is not available in their home country or state, or there is a long queue, people tend to travel to other countries to get their vaccination. For medical tourism, even earlier, millions of people traveled to other countries to get medical treatments of cosmetic procedures, surgeries, and IVF to breast implants. The travel for the COVID-19 jab is a whole new concept.
At the beginning of the year, vaccine tourism was an abominable concept that caused the rich to misuse their positions to get COVID-19 inoculations ahead of others. Now, it has entered the mainstream. Vaccine Passport electromagnetically carries accessible information about a person's inoculation and Covid negative tests. It is accessible on mobile apps, cards, or documents. It is different from Vaccine Tourism.
Specific protocols require priority to senior citizens, people with chronic diseases, and front-line workers at higher risk of infection and death. People outside the priority group travel elsewhere for their shots.
Manufacturing challenges and supply are the reasons for the slow pace of administration of vaccines worldwide.
Many Indian states and other countries are experiencing a slow rollout, and it has propelled vaccine tourism.
All adult populations require vaccines, and some elite class gains access to jabs ahead of priority groups and most people. It raises the ethical issue of socioeconomic inequalities. Moreover, it could lead to disruption of the demand and supply and distribution challenges. Here, people are not visiting other countries for cosmetic surgery. A Canadian CEO resigned after getting vaccinated in Dubai ahead of millions of Canadians by jumping the line.
The director-general of WHO, Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, is concerned about the imbalance in vaccine allocation and doses for leisure travel. As per statistics, one in four people has been vaccinated in high-income countries, and it is one in more than 500 for low-income countries. Moreover, it puts question marks on people's ethics with approach and resources to visit another country instead of waiting for their turn in the home country.
The UK offers free vaccination to everyone through the National Health Service(NHS). You cannot spend money to have it privately and jump the line. All citizens have to furnish personal details and wait for the doctor to offer a shot to them. In a way, the UK is preventing vaccine tourism. In the US, individual states determine rules, procedures, and vaccine availability. Some public health departments require prior vaccination appointments. Other departments work on a first-come, first-served basis, and mass vaccination.
If air travel is operational, it is not illegal to travel abroad to get vaccinated. However, the Government of India is committed to vaccinating all citizens by the end of 2021. The shortage of vaccination is prompting Indians to think about tour packages.
The world is discussing the proposal of vaccine passports and vaccine tourism. Russia, Slovakia, Zimbabwe, and parts of the US are the countries that have not restricted vaccinations to only local citizens. South Africans are going to Zimbabwe, Latin Americans and Canadians to America, and Europeans to Russia for vaccines.
Texas, Louisiana, and Arizona were the first American states to allow non-residents to receive a Covid-19 vaccine legally. Resultantly, visitors are flocking to these states. Americans are visiting other states within America to get vaccinated. Vaccine tourism is happening. As per the official California state government website-” Vaccine distribution is based on eligibility irrespective of residency or immigration status.” People from Venezuela and Mexico came to the USA for injections. Florida state promoted the drive to vaccinate 50,000 people out of state without verifying their residency status. People from Canada and Argentina flew to Florida for shots. Later, it required verification of residency in Florida for the vaccine.
For instance, the official California state government website states that "vaccine distribution is based on eligibility irrespective of residency or immigration status." New York has plans to start mobile clinics to give free shots to tourists. Alaska will also be offering free jabs to visitors. Mexican and other wealthy Latin Americans are traveling to the US for vaccines.
An elite club from the United Kingdom entered into a partnership with the United Arab Emirates for vaccination and luxury tourism. The club charged a membership fee to fly its 65+ aged members to the UAE for the Sinopharm vaccine.
Dubai has been encouraging foreigners to work remotely from Dubai for a year because a Dubai residency visa allows them vaccination. A 12-month visa is available for a fee of €600 to anyone earning more than €4,000 a month. This residency Visa with multiple entries entitles them to vaccination in Dubai.
The Maldives is the first country to initiate a vacation vaccine program to lure tourists after fully reopening the islands to vacationers. Its 3 V tourism stands for the visit, vaccinate, and vacation with holiday packages linked to vaccination. World Health Organization's Covax program donates doses to countries that cannot get their own.
Impfreisen. at the company offers guaranteed access to vaccination with inclusive vacation travel packages.
Travel agency World Visitor offers coronavirus vaccine gateways to Russia.
An Indian tourism agency pioneered offering a package of four days from Mumbai to New York in November, December 2020. It cost $2,000(₹1,74,999) for the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine along with a small tour. Some medical tourists can choose to stay back for 3-12 weeks to get their second dose and avoid double trips. The agency claims to abide by official permissions and laws of the United States of America. It required registration with name, email, phone number, age, passport copy, and details of medical complications. Other players from the industry took it with a pinch of salt, dubbing it a misleading scheme, marketing gimmicks, or a publicity stunt.
These travel companies have scrapped packages due to a lack of approval from the US and the UK governments for vaccines to foreigners. Meanwhile, India started to roll out vaccinations. Over time, other travel agencies created similar tour packages for the US, the UK, Russia, and Dubai for vaccine shots. One agency offers a ₹1.3-lakh tour package for 24 days to Indians for two Sputnik V doses and sightseeing in Russia. It is without quarantine for negative RTPCR reports. The package covers visits to Moscow and St Petersburg. Later, this package disappeared from Arabian Nights Tours website. They have not yet launched the package as such, and all the hype was due to the leak of the flyer on social media. Some Indians went to Dubai for China's Sinopharm vaccine jabs.
Most countries have banned Indians after the second wave of the corona. The tour operators can wait for travel restrictions to ease for this offering. More than 15 countries have prohibited arrivals from India.
Domestic Vaccine Tourism
Within India, Mumbaikars in Maharashtra are visiting vaccination centers in rural areas to get vaccinated. Locals complain of being unable to get vaccine slots due to this. No rule in India prohibits any citizen from getting jabs anywhere in the country after registering on the COWIN platform.
Vaccination Tourism and Hospitality Industry
Vaccine-seeking travelers have given an opportunity to the Hospitality industry for business. Some medical tourists prefer to stay for 3-12 weeks to complete their second dose. The industry has come up with attractive packages to cater to this segment. Packages involve travel and stay. Vaccine tourism will be a boon for the ailing hospitality and travel industry.