Vaccine tourism packages allow rich Asians to visit US for Covid jabs

Wealthy Asians are escaping COVID-19 vaccine shortages and flying thousands of miles to the US to get their life-saving jabs.

As American states entice their citizens with lottery tickets and donuts in exchange for a jab in their arms, travel agencies are popping up in Asian nations offering tailored packages for vaccine tourism.

The promise of vaccination in the US has recently been advertised in Thailand, Vietnam, India and Taiwan: all nations that initially performed well during the first year of the pandemic only to have their defences breached by more infectious variants that bounced back as the virus ran rampant globally.

All are struggling to obtain vaccines amid a supply crunch. Vietnam has only vaccinated one million of its 98 million population, while Taiwan has jabbed 1.3 per cent of its 24 million people.

The United States, however, obtained enough to inoculate its citizens twice over - a surplus that Asian travel companies are eager to take advantage of.

Around half of US states, including Texas, Arizona, and California, will accept any official form of identification with a photograph in order to administer a vaccine, regardless of where you legally live. The US government is paying for the vaccines and for the cost of giving the shots to anyone who does not have medical insurance.

But the concept of citizens travelling abroad to jump the queue has been controversial. Taiwan's tourism ministry this week reminded the public that it is illegal to organise overseas group vaccination trips. Vietnam's tourism department also reportedly ordered the suspension of "vaccine tours".

Thailand plans to launch a mass vaccination rollout in early June, but one citizen told us he feared that may be too late. Samart, who asked for his name to be changed as he did not want to be seen to publicly criticise the Thai government, described the vaccine plan so far as "hopeless".

Already a US visa holder, he opted for a "tour" to San Francisco with his wife, where they obtained a Johnson & Johnson vaccine at a local pharmacy before spending a couple of days in Las Vegas and flying home.

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The cost - £2,600 ($A4,784) each - covered accommodation, airport transfers and the booking of the jabs. Flights and state quarantine in Thailand on return were not included, pushing the price to more than £6,700 per person.

"It's not really a holiday," Samart said. "The main purpose was to get the vaccine. Stopping in Vegas was just like adding a cherry on top."

He said that he and his wife did not celebrate getting the vaccines. "We just feel relieved. We just went back to the hotel and had a rest."

The Telegraph, London

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