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Wealthy Asians flying to the US on organized 'vaccine tourism' trips amid slow rollout at home

Asian countries including Thailand, Vietnam and Taiwan have seen a spate of organised "vaccine" tourism trips to the US

Wealthy Asians are escaping 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 doughnuts 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 98m population, while Taiwan has jabbed 1.3 per cent of its 24m. The US obtained enough to inoculate its citizens twice over – a surplus that 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 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 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.”

A health worker prepares to administer a dose of the Sinovac Covid-19 vaccine at a vaccination centre in Bangkok

Thailand plans to launch a mass vaccination rollout in early June. But Thai citizen Samart, who described the vaccine plan so far as “hopeless,” feared that may be too late. Smart asked for his name to be changed as he did not want to be seen publicly criticise the government. 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. The cost - at £2,600 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 over £6,700 per person. The tour also included a couple of days in Las Vegas. “It’s not really a holiday. The main purpose is to get the vaccine... Stopping in Vegas was just like adding a cherry on top,” said Smart. He said he and his wife did not celebrate getting the vaccines. “We just feel relieved. We didn’t celebrate. We just went back to the hotel and had a rest.”

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