Vaccinated tourists come to America
By Claudia Rebaza, CNN
(CNN) – “We didn’t come to the United States for the American dream, we are here for the vaccine dream,” Elver Estela, 49, told CNN. The businessman had come from Peru in search of the Covid-19 vaccine and received his first dose of Pfizer at a Seattle vaccination center.
Earlier this year, Estela had decided to travel to the United States – where vaccines were relatively abundant – after seeing many people close to him become sick with coronavirus, an experience he compared to Russian roulette. With more than 68,000 deaths attributable to Covid-19 in a population of 32 million, Peru is one of the most affected countries in Latin America.
By the time Estela finally arrived in the United States in the first week of May, he learned that one of his closest colleagues had tested positive for the virus at his home in Lima.
“I felt so relieved and released, I won’t be playing Russian roulette anymore,” he said as a Seattle nurse finally injected him with the vaccine.
Estela is not alone. Demand for travel from Latin American countries to the United States increased in 2021, fueled by growing interest in “vaccine tourism” according to some travel and health experts.
Peruvian Deputy Minister of Public Health Gustavo Rosell told local media on May 18 that around 70,000 Peruvians had already traveled abroad to be vaccinated.
Jose Ricardo Botelho, CEO of the Latin American and Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA), told CNN that a recent spike in travel from Latin America and the Caribbean to the United States is likely linked to vaccine tourism.
“As a benchmark, in 2019, trips to North America accounted for 77% of trips outside the region. In March 2021, those trips reached 87%, an increase closely related to the large number of “vaccinated” tourists traveling to the United States to get their injection, ”Botelho said in a statement to CNN.
As a region, Latin America is desperately short Covid-19 vaccines. Although more than 400 million doses of the Covid-19 vaccine have been administered across the Americas, most of them have been administered in the United States, said Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization (OPS), to reporters on May 19.
“Indeed, only 3% of Latin Americans have been fully vaccinated against COVID-19 and we still have a long way to go to make sure everyone is protected,” she said.
For Etienne, vaccine tourism is not a solution but “a symptom of the unequal distribution of vaccines in the Americas”.
Countries in Latin America and the Caribbean have received more than 12 million doses through the WHO-backed Covax facility as of May 21, but the program is experiencing shipping delays with what is already a number limited vaccine, according to PAHO officials.
Go to where the vaccine is
Travelers polled by CNN said they were not asked for proof of US residency at vaccination centers and some of them were shown their national IDs or passports. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) say “jurisdictions cannot add US citizenship requirements or require verification of US citizenship as a condition of vaccination.”
To go further, New York has opened mobile vaccination sites near city attractions. “We are setting up mobile vaccination opportunities for tourists in some of the busiest parts of New York, the places tourists love to visit I think that’s part of the welcome back in New York, we want that everyone do it be careful, ”Mayor Bill de Blasio told reporters on May 11.
“If the vaccine doesn’t reach you, it’s time to switch to the vaccine,” fellow Peruvian Flavio San Martin told CNN. Flavio, a business consultant, traveled to Durham, North Carolina with his family on April 13 and received two doses of the Moderna vaccine.
“I am 46 years old and I did not think I could be vaccinated in my country until December. I have seen people die coming closer and closer to their homes,” said San Martin.
Pamela Card, a 37-year-old Mexican, says she doesn’t want to wait any longer to be eligible for a vaccine in her home country. “The safety of our family is more important. With the vaccine, we can feel safe and less panicked,” she adds.
Card says she was vaccinated over a long weekend in Miami, along with nine other friends. Everyone was able to get online appointments to receive the J&J vaccine at a pharmacy.
“You have to fill out a simple form, they asked for ID to confirm your name, I showed my Mexican ID and that’s it,” Card says.
Mexico and Peru have been hit hard by the pandemic. Mexico exceeded 2,399,790 cases of Covid-19, followed by Peru with more than 1,932,255 cases, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.
And while Mexico has fully vaccinated just over 9% of its population, Peru lags far behind – with just over 3% of its population fully vaccinated. according to CNN’s vaccine tracker.
“We did the numbers with my family and we realized that we would have to wait a long time for my mother’s turn and my mother’s turn,” says Adriana Diaz, 28. She and her 49-year-old mother have traveled from Mexico to Atlanta, where they are awaiting their second dose of the Pfizer vaccine.
“I am extremely grateful to the US government for allowing people to get vaccinated here,” Diaz says.
What it costs
For those who can afford it, the cost of an international flight and accommodation is all it takes to get the vaccine.
According to Ricardo Acosta, president of the Association of Travel and Tourism Agencies of Peru, flights from the Peruvian capital Lima to the United States are fully booked until June. Demand is only expected to increase due to vaccine tourism, he adds.
The number of people traveling from Peru to the United States has quadrupled since February, Acosta said – from 10,000 in February to 40,780 in April.
Theft costs have also increased. The average price of an economy ticket from Lima to Miami this time of year was between $ 500 and $ 700, according to Acosta. These days, prices start at $ 1,200 and can even go as high as $ 4,500, he says. In normal years, the peak season for travel between Peru and the United States is generally July.
Card’s flight from Mexico City to Miami cost around 10,000 Mexican pesos ($ 500) for four days, including accommodation. She says the trip was not as expensive as she expected, but still out of reach for many Mexicans. “Not everyone can do it … with the 10,000 Mexican pesos I paid, a family in Mexico can buy food for a month,” she adds.
“We are finding that vaccine tourism is a real thing and very widespread. And as long as inequalities in vaccine distribution around the world continue, vaccine tourism will continue to increase, ”says Ernesto Ortiz, senior director of the Global Health Institute at Duke University, which monitors vaccine distribution in the world. world.
At the Seattle vaccination center, Estela said he felt warmly welcomed. It doesn’t seem to matter that he’s not a U.S. citizen, he said.
“Everyone was so nice and friendly there and when one of them realized I was Latin American, she said to me, ‘You and your family are welcome to come and get the vaccine, we have vaccines here. “These words meant everything to me,” he said.
As Estela awaits her second dose later in May, his wife Ursula and 18-year-old daughter Ariana have joined him in Seattle. They opted for a Johnson & Johnson vaccine.
“I felt protected knowing that I can go back to my country and feel safe, still taking every precaution but safe,” says Ursula, describing when she was vaccinated.
Like many people interviewed by CNN, she said her own vaccine tourism would help slow the spread of the coronavirus and allow someone else at home to take her place in the queue.
“We are helping to stop the spread of the virus in our country; more people vaccinated will help reduce levels of transmission, ”she said.
“The vaccine dream also means an extra vaccine for someone who needs it in my country … if I can save another life by taking this trip, it is worth more than the economic cost,” her husband added.
Over time, other destinations could also become an option for travelers to Latin America who want to speed up their vaccine treatments.
In Russia, the makers of Sputnik V proposed on Twitter a vaccination program for foreigners: “Sputnik V vaccination in Russia!” Who is on board? “Just to be clear, this was no April Fool’s joke. We are working to get this program started in July,” Sputnik V’s Twitter account also said.
Closer to us, Cuba, which is currently developing its own Covid-19 vaccine with two candidates in their third final phase of clinical trials. If all goes well, Cuban health authorities plan to vaccinate the majority of the population by the end of the summer and have launched the idea of strengthening the local tourism industry by offering “vaccination vacations” to visitors. .
In the meantime, a trip to the United States for a vaccine is an option for citizens of countries where the coronavirus is still not under control.
“If you have the option to do it, it’s crazy not to do it … The virus is all around us,” says San Martin.
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