As the world shot down largely in 2020, tourism was badly hit with losses estimated at a whopping US$ 2 trillion-plus in global GDP. However, the new year and the slew of vaccines launched across the board have sent a positive signal to the tourism industry. Even as international borders open albeit slowly, the tourism industry is hopping on to the vaccine bandwagon to boost its sagging image.
Understanding Vaccine Tourism
So, what is vaccine tourism all about?
Well simply speaking it is traveling to get a COVID-19 vaccine jab in another country. While the concept of medical tourism (getting treatment in another country) is quite commonplace, the coronavirus pandemic has resulted in vaccine shortages in many countries which means people are looking at going to another country for their shot. It would be wise to understand which states can give non-residents a COVID-19 vaccine. Some countries like the Maldives, easily the most popular tourist destination in the pandemic, has announced that they will soon offer visitors vaccinations on arrival. This is being planned as part of a three-pronged 3V strategy that encourages ‘visit, vaccinate and vacation’ for its tourists. It does help that 90% of the tourism industry and 65% of the eligible population have already received their shots. The tourism minister of Maldives, Abdulla Mausoom, has been quoted saying the country will offer vaccines to tourists once the country is fully vaccinated.
With much talk about vaccine passports doing the rounds, several countries are ready to open for tourism. However, the shadow of the virus is still around and one way to mitigate this is to offer packages that allow people to come in for an extended stay that includes vaccination and quarantine.
Recently a Dubai-based travel agency Arabian Nights Tours launched a 23-night package from Delhi to Moscow which quickly disappeared from the site. While the agency claimed that it was sold out, the real issue is that Russia will allow only those foreign citizens with registration in Moscow, residence permits, and Russian health insurance to be vaccinated. Hence it is important to read and understand the fine print before heading for jaunt and jab trips.
However, while citizens are the priority, there has also been an announcement on Sputnik V’s official Twitter account that indicated that the Sputnik V vaccination was going to be available for travelers in Russia after July. A recent report confirmed that the first group of four people drove 26 hours in a camper van to reach San Marino from Latvia to become the first visitors to take advantage of the Sputnik V COVID-19 vaccine holiday package.
Question of Ethics
While vaccine tourism is something that people with deep pockets can aspire for, the question that also arises is whether it is ethical. Considering that vaccination drives have begun recently, several countries are now revising vaccine tourism packages as they have been under fire for offering vaccines to foreigners over residents.
A lot of the fallout is also happening, as these tours come with fancy price tags that the affluent can easily afford to leave out a large part of the vulnerable population. In fact, Glenn Cohen, a medical ethicist at Harvard Law School describes this issue very succinctly.
The other aspect is that people of color are more likely to be affected by the coronavirus as per a COVID Racial Tracker by NPR. This was also corroborated by a report that threw light on the Covid-19 mortality data by race and ethnicity across the United States.
While currently there are no laws that make it illegal to travel for vaccines, it is imperative to check and recheck before you embark on a journey to get the jab. And it is most vital for you to understand the reason why you have decided to travel for a vaccine. Research about the vaccine, your eligibility and accordingly make a decision that will be the right one.
Bindu Gopal Rao is a freelance writer and photographer from Bangalore who likes taking the offbeat path when traveling. Birding and environment are her favorites and she documents her work on www.bindugopalrao.com.