Vaccine Tourism Is the Newest Travel Trend—But Hopefully Not for Long

Where there is a will, there's a backdoor

Aerial View Of Sea Against Blue Sky
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After nearly a year on lockdown and with on-and-off restrictions on everything from daily activities to travel, the COVID-19 vaccine has become one of the hottest commodities in decades. But how far would you go—literally—to get that shot in the arm?

Since the first vaccines were released in December 2020, vaccine tourism has been on the rise. From the very start, vaccines and vaccine appointments have been hard to come by—a scarcity intensified by restrictions on eligibility and further complicated by the fact that rollout plans functioned on a state or county level. For some itching and struggling to get inoculated, the answer was simple: travel somewhere where they could. The answer was vaccine tourism.

For many, it started with folks flocking to Florida, a state that initially doled out doses without requiring proof of residency—as long as you were eligible by their guidelines, you could get a shot. For others, it meant driving across the nearest state line, and, for ex-pats, it meant taking a long flight home just to get a shot.

There have also been rumors about wealthy travelers shelling out major cash to take vaccine vacations in destinations like the United Arab Emirates, where they would receive the first shot and stay in the country until after receiving their second shot. The most public case was Canadian pension fund executive Mark Machin, who resigned after traveling to Dubai to receive his vaccines. Another rumor about Zenith Holidays, a travel company in India offering vaccine tourism packages that included vaccine jabs as part of the itinerary, also surfaced.

Both of these rumors serve as reminders that when supply is limited, and demand is skyrocketing, where there is a will, there’s usually a secret backdoor. Ethics aside, they also beg the question: What if vaccine tourism was a legitimate thing? What if it was a way to lure tourists to a destination?

It turns out this is already the plan for some destinations. On April 14, 2021, Maldives tourism minister Abdulla Mausoom announced on CNBC that the island nation, whose economy heavily relies on tourism income, had its sights set on a “3V tourism” initiative that would allow tourists to “visit, vaccinate, and vacation” in the South Asian archipelago.

For those concerned about wealthy tourists taking vaccines away from the local population, Mausoom stressed that the 3V program wouldn’t begin until after the country has fully vaccinated its own citizens as an additional promotion for tourists.

However, it’s unclear exactly how the country will source the vaccines for the 3V program, especially since Mausoom noted that the country is currently administering vaccines that have been donated from China, India, and the World Health Organization, though he did mention the Maldives had also placed a vaccine order from Singapore. Currently, just over 32 percent of Maldives is fully vaccinated, including roughly 90 percent of frontline tourism workers, according to Reuters.

On the other side of the world, Alaska governor Mike Dunleavy announced a similar plan to help draw tourists to the state during its biggest money-making season. Starting June 1, travelers that make their way to Alaska will have the option to receive a jab right at the airport, giving tourists, as Dunleavy hopes, “another good reason to come to the State of Alaska during the summer.”

Currently, 171 countries have begun the vaccine process. As the U.S. impatiently waits for most of the population to receive jabs, there have been complaints about the slow and less-than-organized rollout. The truth is, we’re actually doing quite well, especially for a country this size. So far, the CDC reports that roughly 41 percent of people in the U.S. have received at least one dose, and close to 27 percent are fully vaccinated.

According to Reuters Vaccine Tracker, the U.S. has doled out over 219 million vaccine doses and is currently averaging over three million jabs a day—the most of any country, several times over. The United Kingdom is the next closest in sheer shot numbers. While nearly 50 percent of the U.K. population has managed to receive at least one shot, they have only actually administered one-fifth the number of doses as the United States.

As more privileges and fewer restrictions continue to be applied to the fully vaccinated, vaccine tourism is likely to continue—both sanctioned and not. In the best-case scenario, it’s a trend that will become irrelevant sooner rather than later.

Article Sources
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  1. NBC Miami. "Florida to Restrict First Dose of Covid-19 Vaccination to Residents." January 21, 2021

  2. CNBC. "Vaccine Tourism: Maldives to Offer Holidaymakers Vaccines on Arrival in a Push to Revive Tourism." April 14, 2021.

  3. Reuters. "Maldives Vaccine Tracker." April 23, 2021.

  4. Reuters. "Latest Updates: Covid-19 Vaccination Charts." Retrieved April 23, 2021

  5. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. "Covid-19 Vaccinations in the United States." April 23, 2021.