While most adults in the U.S. already have at least one dose of the COVID-19 vaccine, Latin America is sinking deeper and deeper into administrative and social chaos.
The solution for many with the resources to travel has been to hop on a plane and head north searching for vaccines.
A new report in the New York Times describes how people with the means to travel, frustrated by the slow pace of vaccination campaigns at home, and faced with a glut of doses in the United States, have taken advantage of U.S. tourist visas to flock to the U.S. in recent weeks to get vaccinated against COVID-19.
“The access has proved a bonanza for the privileged in countries where the virus continues to take a brutal toll,” the NYT reporters explained, “even if many, including those who are benefiting, struggle with the fact that vaccine tourism exacerbates the inequality that has worsened the pandemic’s toll.”
Although the Biden administration said this month that it would deliver 80 million doses of vaccine by the end of June to countries struggling to vaccinate their populations, there are those who don’t want to wait any longer.
A New Kind of Tourism for Latin Americans
This phenomenon has been seized upon by local governments in places like New York and Alaska, who have actively encouraged what is now being called “vaccination tourism” and which has seen an increase in the cost of airfare, and a significant influx in hotels and restaurants.
Travel agencies in the region have begun selling vaccination packages, including multi-country itineraries for Brazilians, who must spend two weeks in a third country before being allowed into the United States, the Times explained.
Generally speaking, foreigners entering on a tourist visa can seek medical care in the United States.
Although the State Department conducts security background checks on travelers applying for visas, officials said it does not screen people who are visiting explicitly for vaccinations, and there does not appear to be any guidance from the federal government for foreigners coming to the United States for that purpose.
Once in the country, officials said, it is up to states, local communities, and individual health care providers to decide whether to administer the vaccine without proof of U.S. residency.
As NBC News reported in early May, the spike in demand increased flights from Mexico to the United States by an average of 30% to 40% since mid-March.
However, the advantage enjoyed by some upper-middle-class Latin Americans highlights the deep social disparities on the continent, which will only become more pronounced over time.