How Significant Is Vaccine Tourism To The United States Right Now?

When I wrote about travel agencies promoting US tour packages to get vaccinated I assumed this was a marginal play, that a few people might be doing it.

However South American carrier and Delta partner LATAM reports this is what’s filling their planes to the U.S. right now,

LATAM Airlines Group (LTM.SN), the region’s largest carrier, said on Thursday that it is seeing increased demand from South Americans seeking to travel to the United States to get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

…[LATAM chief financial officer Ramior] Alfonsin told reporters that LATAM passengers from Peru, Colombia and Ecuador are flying directly to the United States, while those from Argentina are flying via Santiago or Lima.

Taking a VACCation to the U.S. is good, but the U.S. should be doing more to vaccinate the world rather than building stockpiles of shots that won’t likely be used here (including of vaccines that have been approved in other countries but not in the U.S.).

The major concern at this point in the pandemic is mutations. The virus mutates inside of people, so the best way to protect against mutation is to vaccinate people. Even if you don’t value the lives of people abroad, the best way to protect yourself is to vaccinate them.

About Gary Leff

Gary Leff is one of the foremost experts in the field of miles, points, and frequent business travel - a topic he has covered since 2002. Co-founder of frequent flyer community, emcee of the Freddie Awards, and named one of the "World's Top Travel Experts" by Conde' Nast Traveler (2010-Present) Gary has been a guest on most major news media, profiled in several top print publications, and published broadly on the topic of consumer loyalty. More About Gary »

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  1. I have a travel agency in Miami and everyday there are people flying in for vaccines. The term is a vaxacation.

  2. This does not surprise me. We already internal vaccincations going on in the US from one state where its tough to get vaccinated to another where its easier. And if we opened the door to Canadians with one shot we would get a flood. There is talk that the border will open soon both ways to people with at least one vaccination to the US, two to go back to Canada.

  3. We operate a vacation rental business in Florida and we are definitely seeing extended stays out of South America, presumably partly to get vaccinations

  4. @ Robert – There are no waits anywhere within the United States. Whoever wants one can now get one.

    And yes @Gary – we should be sending these shots abroad – especially the Astra Zeneca vaccine that is not approved for use in the U.S. and likely won’t be for some time. However, the administration is concerned about needing boosters soon and they want a stockpile so they can be given at a moment’s notice. So I assume they won’t release any shots until there is enough stockpile to give every American their first shot plus an extra shot for the booster.

  5. I’d also add there is the question of contamination of the AZ and JNJ shots produced at the Baltimore facility (all J&J shots administered in the U.S. were produced in Europe). Once that issue is cleared up, presumably more shots can be released abroad.

  6. Actually we have had a lot of people from rural PA coming to NYC. Same with Southern states. In theory you are right but in practice things don’t always work out.

  7. Not only is it morally repugnant to promote the vaccination of the wealthy from other countries over their poorer countrymates but there is a risk to Americans by bringing unvaccinated foreigners to the US.
    Sadly, the predictions of vaccine inequity are playing out just as was expected. Even while holding to a standard that covid can be eliminated in the US and EU which have very porous borders and visitors from around the world moving in and out of their borders.

  8. Canada often brags about its health care system but is quiet about the fact that less than 3% of Canadians are fully vaccinated compared to more than 10x that percentage in the U.S.

    Canadians are coming to the US for vaccine. There are even formal programs to vaccinate Canadians coming to Montana and North Dakota, not to mention individual initiative in Arizona and Florida as well as Canadians in other states.

  9. @Tim Given that the USA is still Covid soup, I doubt we need worry about the occasional unvaccinated (but tested) foreigner coming to the US.

    Eventually our excess vaccine will start making it to other countries. We’ll have worldwide herd immunity in a decade or so. In the meantime it doesn’t seem unfair that the parts of the world that developed the vaccines should have first shot (pardon the pun) at being vaccinated.

  10. @derek It’s a little disingenuous to quote the numbers that way. 3% of Canadians are fully vaccinated, mostly the elderly and some front-line workers. And up in the remote communities. But 30+% have had one shot. Canada has decided to give as close as possible to everyone one shot first and then over the next 90 days administer the 2nd shot. A good plan (also in use in the UK) if you have a shortage (or thought you would) of vaccine. Canada’s vaccinating people at about the rate of the USA now that a supply of vaccine is assured. They’re a couple of months behind the USA but catching up.

    Given we have so much excess vaccine, we should put vaccination clinics along the border for Canadians to drive down to, get their shot and return in 3/4 weeks to get the second shot. We’d help get a significant amount of Canada vaccinated sooner and get that border open! Programs like that between Manitoba and North Dakota to get truckers vaccinated are a great first step.

  11. I am one of those Canadians. I needed a second shot before going to Hawaii and so came to the US to get it since I couldn’t get it in Canada until July. As a dual US/CN I had no trouble crossing the US border. A bit trickier going back to Canada as you still need to quarantine. Not quite sure why but Canada for all its medical advantages really blew the Pandemic badly.

  12. Flew to the US last month, didn’t bother getting a vaccine.
    What’s the point?

    – Countries still make you get a PCR test into a country – no benefit.
    – ‘Experts’ still demand silly rules
    – Travel is still ‘discouraged’ – whatever that means.

    So, yeah, why would I get a vaccine if it offers zero benefits?

    Also, pulling the J&J stuff freaks people out.
    ‘Yes yes, everything is safe and effective. Oh wait, but not this one’

    I think the world is run by absolute morons.
    So, yeah, not getting a vaccine no matter how many times I go to the US this year.
    Zero benefit or reason to take my time to do so.

  13. I found your comment here disturbing, sad and bizarre. I hope it doesn’t lead to your hospitalization and/or death. Getting a vaccination takes 30 minutes. Obviously you are so busy you can’t afford that amount of time. Experts don’t demand “silly” rules. They try to follow the science. I guess its a great feeling to do something illegal and get away with it. If the world is actually run by morons (a point I don’t wish to argue against) I guess you are one of them except I’d add the word uncaring morons. Stay safe, stay healthy though I doubt you are capable of either.

  14. Yes they follow the science but often with a very long time lag and with a laser like focus on just COVID without consideration of other public health concerns. They are now getting around to pointing out the COVID theatre of all the deep cleaning, though we’ve known for a long time that the disease is spread by aerosols, not fomites. Now they come out with kids camp rules that require seven year olds to wear masks outdoors except if eating or swimming for no perceptible scientific reason; and tens of millions of kids aren’t back in school yet after 14 months because of guidelines issued long ago (and because of teacher unions in some places) when they thought schools were an especially high risk place for super spreaders, though we know that has not proven to be the case.

    I am not a patient guy. I say give everyone $1,000 to get vaccinated, and watch the “hesitancy” melt away. Far better than the stimulus payments and spending programs since it will actually solve the problem rather than just addressing symptoms. Prohibit the unvaccinated from all public transportation, schools, universities, arenas and auditoriums, and other venues for more than 500 people, and even people like George will take the trouble to get vaccinated because then he will see the point. And develop an all hands on deck mobilization to get the vaccines produced and out to the world

  15. George, even if the authorities in control of travel are morons, you can still be hospitalised and die from covid. India had readily available vax appointments in some areas before their current wave. Get the vaccine done, and no more worries.

  16. @Rob
    my point about welcoming in unvaccinated foreigners highlights the logical inconsistency of current regulations.
    If the CDC won’t even completely remove mask and social distance regulations among vaccinated Americans, then it makes no sense to allow anyone who is unvaccinated into the US. And testing is not the answer because, as Gary has shown, there is fraud and inaccuracy in that process as well.

    The original notion for lockdowns and social restrictions in the US was to not overwhelm the health care system. We are well past that point and all of the unvaccinated people cannot overwhelm the health care system.

    It is time to recognize that there are people that will not get vaccinated for covid just as for other diseases or get an annual checkup or make other lifestyle choices to reduce their risk of disease. That is part of dealing w/ any group.

    Those that are willing to manage their own risks need to be free to live as normal was before covid. Those that are not willing to use resources to mitigate risk need to face the consequences of their decision. Leftover resources need to equitably shared w/ those who do not have access to those resources-regardless of their own economic status.

  17. Tim Dunn, there is no “managing your own risk” with covid or any highly infectious disease. If you contract covid while you refuse vaccination and “live life as normal”, then you will pass it to someone, maybe someone who medically can’t get the vaccine and “manage their own risk”

  18. Hi Tim so maybe you are unaware of current CDC regulations but they no longer require outdoor mask wearing if you are fully vaccinated. Indoor yes unless you are fully vaccinated and with fully vaccinated people there are good reasons for that. I am of two minds on vaccine tourism. Yes it is the elites being vaccinated but they also need to go home and I know of many Indian doctors coming here to get vaccinated to go home and serve their people safely. It’s not one size fits all. The key thing is to get more vaccine everywhere, now and not argue over these side issues.

  19. @Robert Kasher.
    If a person is vaccinated, being indoors or outdoors doesn’t matter.
    No one can logically argue that people need to get vaccinated and them put a million caveats on any behavior that doesn’t fit a narrative that vaccines work.
    yes, there is the ability to manage risk by taking a vaccine or staying indoors by yourself if you feel a threat.
    It is no different than monogamy in the case of STD or if you really are willing to trust a piece of rubber, using that.

    This notion that vaccinated Americans have to change their behavior because some people don’t vaccinate for one reason or the other is unlike the way any other disease has been handled in the US.

    And if there is ANY risk to vaccinated Americans from unvaccinated people, then inviting anyone else in to the country for vaccination not only makes no sense but is immoral from the perspective of picking and choosing whose lives we as Americans save based on their economic well-being in their country.

  20. It’s difficult to imagine someone making the decision to travel this distance to get injected with an experimental gene therapy, to avoid a virus that kills less than .5% of the population. Logic and common sense are a rarity in society.

  21. @Robert J Kasher, not sure how you get to the conclusion that Canada “really blew the Pandemic badly”.
    Canada is currently 80th in the world in per capita cases, US is 9th, Israel is 15th, UK is 46th. Canada is currently 64th per capita in COVID deaths, UK is 15th, US is 18th, Israel is 61st (likely because of their younger population).
    In vaccination doses per million people administered among countries that have administered at least 1 million doses of vaccine and are not using Sinopharm (which is proving to be of questionable efficacy), Canada is tied for 4th with Germany (behind US, UK, and Israel). Based on the plan that Canada has adopted of vaccinating as many as possible with a first shot, they are also 4th on the same basis, behind the same countries and will likely catch the US within about two weeks.
    All of this while living next door to the world’s biggest pandemic dumpster fire.

  22. You obviously haven’t lived there these last six months. We have only now caught up in the last month. We have been in lock down for most of the last six months. We went through over two months with no vaccines. Most people still can’t get their second shots until this summer. We’ve been dependent on the charity of the US for our vaccines and the border remains closed. What’s not to like? Why don’t you try being under quarantine for six months.

  23. @farnorthtrader
    I got a call from a Canadian colleague yesterday who asked if I could talk. Told him I was coming back from lunch w/ a friend. My colleague asked how that all works w/ masks and everything (seriously) and said he is jealous.
    And Canada has far better border controls than the US ever will – at least for the next 3 years and 9 months.

  24. CVS and Walgreens have been the big vaccine wasters in the first 3 months of the year. That should be a sign that they may be prime places for medical tourists to get vaccinated in the US.

    Vaccinating foreigners is good for America and the world.

  25. Canada will eventually pass up the US in the percentage of its population that gets vaccinated against Covid-19.

    Canada has a lower proportion of anti-vaccination wackos than the US, and that’s why Canada will almost certainly end up with a higher proportion of its population vaccinated than the US. The question is how and by when.

  26. The previous administration’s “warp speed” program included the clause that vaccines could not be donated or sold outside the US. That’s why the US has officially “loaned” AZ shots to Mexico. In addition, giving vaccines to other countries involves a number of regulatory and packaging hurdles that ensure a couple months worth of lead time.
    In short: legally, it’s not supposed to happen. Practically, it takes time. But most people recognize the only way out of this is to vaccinate globally.
    As for vaxacations, yeah. If the residents of the US have no trouble with access to the vaccines, and yet don’t get them, by all means let tourists get them. It’s better than letting the vaccines and tourists expire.

  27. As per Canada antivax wackos that’s probably true but we also have more than our fair share in the prairies and out west. Also don’t forget we are way behind on second shots. One can only hope Canada continues its improvement as it’s good for everyone but it has made so many mistakes in this past year as per securing supplies that I don’t share your faith. Also I would like to see the actual stats here. When I left Canada two weeks ago we were still way behind. I find it hard to believe we caught up in 2 weeks.

  28. We certainly do have an unfair share of antivaxxers out here in the west, primarily here in Alberta, although far more anti maskers than antivaxxers. Still not nearly as many as pretty much anywhere in the US.
    As far as the vaccination rate, Canada hasn’t so much accelerated (about 0.65 doses/100 people/day to 0.9) as the US and the other countries have decelerated (the US has dropped from about 1 first dose/100 to about 0.15). As of Friday, Canada was about 8% behind in first doses, so if the current trend holds (and Canada has still been accelerating), then Canada will pass the US in somewhere between 10 days and two weeks. Procurement is still an issue, but a common one worldwide, and if the US ever manages to allow export, their current surplus (just their surplus) production would fully vaccinate (two doses) every eligible Canadian in about two weeks. The only major issue Canada has had in procurement is the lack of domestic production which goes back decades because Canada has relied on partnership with the US for the past half century. It had worked well until a true emergency and then it quickly became every country for themselves.

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