The Maldives is planning to offer vaccines on arrival to promote tourism. That’s great for wealthy travelers from countries that are lagging the U.S., U.K. and elsewhere in vaccination. I’m not sure how India, which is providing most of their shots, will feel about it.
But did you know that Alaska is planning to offer vaccination for tourists on arrival at the airport starting June 1?
The program will run outside of security at Anchorage, Fairbanks, Juneau and Ketchikan airports and they’ll even run a trial program for the state’s residents in Anchorage for five days at the end of April from 5 p.m. to 2 a.m.
[Governor] Dunleavy, a Republican, outlined plans for a national marketing campaign aimed at luring tourists using federal aid money and said the vaccine offering is “probably another good reason to come to the state of Alaska in the summer.”
There are (6) key takeaways about how this may help both Alaska – and the world.
- Most Americans who want a vaccine will already have had one by June 1. In Austin we’re having a hard time filling available 1st dose appointments. (Over half of adults have already had a first shot.)
- This does make it easier to travel to Alaska rather than being confined to home for a second shot, if they make second doses available this way. In other words, you don’t need to wait until you’re ‘fully vaccinated’ under this plan to travel to Alaska.
The state even is hoping for unvaccinated Americans to come, get their first dose, and get the second shot at home (“if travelers are not still in Alaska when it’s time for their second dose, they can follow-up at a clinic or with their provider when they return home”).
Make of that what you will, but since by June 1 everyone who has wanted a vaccine will have been able to get one, Alaskans will be generally protected and there shouldn’t be overcrowding risk for the state’s hospitals.
- The vaccination program could be attractive to foreign tourists. As with the Maldives program (but without the high-end expense of water villas!) this could be a boon to international arrivals just as peak tourism season hits Alaska, because who wants to go there in the winter?
- Vaccinating foreign tourists is in America’s interest. Some may be concerned about using taxpayer-financed vaccines, and federal marketing dollars, to vaccinate non-citizens but that is actually one of the best strategies to protect Americans from the virus.
As economist Alex Tabarrok explained in congressional testimony, getting the world vaccinated quickly is how we’ll limit the virus from mutating around vaccines, and prevent travelers from bringing mutations to the U.S.
The unvaccinated are the biggest risk for generating mutations and new variants. You have heard of the South Africa and Brazilian variants, well the best way to protect your constituents from these and other variants is to vaccinate South Africans and Brazilians.
- Could this be an implicit rollout of ‘first doses first’? The U.K. has delayed second doses of vaccine in order to get some protection for as many people as possible, and that’s served them well. The U.S. has preferred to offer marginal additional protection to the same people who are already mostly protected, rather than getting everyone vaccinated quickly.
However since the U.S. is only currently using the Pfizer and Moderna vaccines – and these are explicitly what Alaska plans to use at the airport – full vaccination would mean being in Alaska for the first shot and then three (Pfizer) or four (Moderna) weeks later for a second. Most people won’t stay that long, but doses could be stretched across more tourists that way. The FDA would never approve, but it could work as dose-stretching to do as much for the rest of the world as possible
By the way a first shot of the two mRNA vaccines appear to provide protection similar to a one-dose regiment of Johnson & Johnson.
- A backdoor way to promote foreign policy the Biden administration can’t do overtly. The U.S. has stockpiled AstraZeneca vaccines in the tens of millions, and has only shown a willingness to release a small number of doses to other countries even though the vaccine isn’t approved here, may not be approved here, and increasingly looks unnecessary as part of the strategy to vaccinate Americans.
Instead states could use excess supply (albeit not AstraZeneca) to vaccinate foreigners, with the extra cost to them that they have to come here to get the shot. That’s bad for equity, since it means only wealthier foreigners who can travel will have access. But it’s better than hoarding.
Alaska could turn a negative – its climate in the winter – into a positive if this program continues, with a new slogan “our state is so cold we don’t need any extra refrigeration to make mRNA vaccines available to the world!”