"When news surfaced in late 2020 that some tour operators were selling packages to the United States that included a vaccine shot, the word 'vaccine tourism' began to be more heard. Vaccine tourism is a recent travel trend in which tourists can combine a luxurious vacation with a vaccination. Medical and cosmetic surgery are common in countries like India and Thailand, but the pandemic has prompted the rise of a new form of tourism."
Some groups, such as the elderly and health-care staff, are given preference in most countries that have the vaccine. However, some people who aren't part of these preferred groups are reportedly skipping the line and going somewhere else to get their shots. In fact, vaccine tourism is an emerging trend in countries where vaccines are in short supply, or where certain groups are still restricted from being inoculated.
Still, there are only a few countries in the world (parts of the US, Russia, Slovakia, Zimbabwe etc) that don’t restrict their vaccination policy to local residents. So we hear that South Africans are reportedly flying to Zimbabwe, Canadians and South Americans are reportedly travelling to the United States for vaccinations, and tour operators in Europe are selling Sputnik V vaccination trips to Russia.
San Marino received the first vaccine tourists in May 2021, a party of four from Latvia who
travelled 26 hours in a camper van to reach the microstate and became the first travellers to take advantage of the microstate's Sputnik V Covid-19 vaccine holiday kit.
A Dubai-based tour operator was recently reported to be offering a 24-day package tour from
Delhi to Moscow that included two shots of the Russian Sputnik-V vaccine. Between the two
jabs, the Rs 1.3 lakh tour package promised 20 days of sightseeing across Russia. Despite the fact that many obstacles must be overcome first, such as visas and flights from India to Russia, a Delhi-based travel agency has entered the fray, stating that vaccination tour packages to Russia are being considered.
So, is it a part of policies?
Not really. So far, no official agreements between countries and international authorities have been entered to ensure that these 'vaccine visitors' get the experience they've been promised, shot in the arm and all.
The ethics of people with money or connections travelling to another state or nation to get a COVID vaccine, while others wait in line according to their country's or state's rules, are also a source of concern.
Vaccine tourism is now strongly discouraged in some countries. In the United Kingdom, for
example, people can only have the vaccine if their doctor recommends it, and they must check their personal information, including address, at the shot appointment. Furthermore, since it is a free vaccine provided by the country's National Health Service (NHS), people cannot pay for it individually.
In the United States, vaccine availability is determined by different states, each with its own set of rules and procedures, making things a bit more complicated. According to the New York Times, some local public health agencies have online portals where people can schedule vaccinations, while others are holding mass vaccination activities on a first-come, first-served basis. Doctor’s offices and pharmacies have generally advised people not to call them to schedule vaccination appointments at this time, but wait to be called.
Vaccine Tourism in India
Since May, 2021, several copies of flyers have swept the internet, promising a month-long trip to Russia, complete with meals, vaccinations, lodging, and transportation. Vaccine tourism appeared to be on the rise, especially to Russia.
A draft of a vaccine tour package for Delhi-Moscow by a Dubai-based travel agency Arabian
Nights Tours got leaked on social media on May 19, 2021. Many Indians are said to have
expressed interest in the tour kit, which included a shot of Russia's Sputnik V vaccine as well as a certificate of vaccination.
The deal, as shown above, is very lucrative and cost-effective for the money paid, and it is catered to the Indian palate. Accommodation for 24 days, sightseeing in Moscow and St. Petersburg, air tickets, visa assistance, Indian food, and, most notably, two Sputnik V jabs. The first shipment, according to the claim, is already sold out.
Even if one could afford it, one should check thoroughly before signing up for such offers because it might be too good to be true. According to Loveleen Arun, a luxury travel specialist based in Bangalore, the Russian health authority has not approved the vaccination of visitors. This is further supported by a flyer distributed by one of the world's largest travel and destination management firms. They also state that private clinics are no longer permitted to sell vaccinations to visitors, and they advise against booking such trips.
Thus, the bottom line is, Russia is a welcoming nation. Indians can fly there under the country's air bubble arrangements.
According to unconfirmed reports, the nation is not currently providing a vaccine to visitors but hectic efforts are on to make it legal – more so with the recent bilateral agreement of Russia supplying the Sputnik V vaccine to India.
This type of tourism can also help the sagging economy of smaller nations like Seychelles, San Marino, Maldives and so on, which rely on tourism for revenue and has seen a sharp downfall in their fortunes due to the pandemic related travel restrictions. They can lure the richer nations where vaccination is still in short supply with attractive tourist packages coupled with vaccine shots during their stay in these countries.
But the notion of vaccine tourism tends to be fraught, since it guarantees that people with the time and money to travel will have an easier time accessing vaccines.
According to the views of some like Carissa Etienne, director of the Pan American Health Organization, “Vaccine tourism is not the solution. Vaccines can make the difference between life and death and should not be a privilege of rich countries or wealthy people, but a right of everyone.”
(Written by Siddhipriya Chatterjee)