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Some luxury travel packages now include COVID-19 vaccine

KIRO Seattle logo KIRO Seattle 3/5/2021 Alison Grande

Some people who are getting tired of waiting to get the COVID vaccine are taking vacations to exotic destinations to get vaccinated. Vaccine vacations are becoming big business.

From traveling to Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and England, they’re banking on skipping the line at home.

Others are crossing state lines to move up the list.

“They’re taking the COVID pandemic and marketing it,” said Steve Danishek of TMA Travel in Seattle. “Maybe it’s legal, maybe it’s not, it’s certainly not ethical, but it is being done.”

Arthur Caplan at the NYU School of Medicine says it is happening all over the world. “I know people who have gone to Saudi Arabia, United Arab Emirates. Now you have to be pretty rich and have a lot of free time to do it, but I know people who have done it,” said Caplan.

The website Zenith Holidays.com, based in India, has a section for “Vaccine Tourism”. You enter your name, contact information, and when you want to travel. They send back an email advertising possible trips.

One package to the United Kingdom has a 4-day stay. The flyer says the trips include airfare, breakfast, sightseeing and a COVID safety kit, but they can’t guarantee the price or availability of the vaccine.

“Medical tourism has been around for a long time,” said Danishek, “The idea of putting a package together including the airfare and hotel and whatever quarantines are necessary and the shot, the vaccine.”

They’re also selling trips from India to the United States. It includes a 4-day stay with a vaccine for about $2,000. But the company warns they are still waiting for approval from the FDA.

While vaccine tourism started in India and the United Arab Emirates, Danishek says it is spreading.

Exactly how you’ll get vaccinated is often vague.

“Whether you have a friendly pharmacist who is going to help you out for an extra 200 dollars, that’s kind of a gray area. Is it legal? Maybe not, it’s certainly not ethical, but it’s being done,” Danishek added.

Jeffery Smith is the Frank Shrontz Chair in Professional Ethics at the Albers School of Business and Economics at Seattle University. KIRO-7 asked Smith about the ethics of vaccine tourism.

“That’s where I tell my students, ethics is being respectful to the things that can’t be enforced. It’s an internal regulator, I think that basic kernel of truth applies in this case too as people think about traveling,” said Smith.

Florida has been fighting to cut down on vaccine tourism. Last month, when 1.1 million people had been vaccinated, health officials found that 39,000 were from outside the state. They also found some wealthy Argentinians traveling to Miami.

“If the tourism involves trying to gain an advantage to jump the line, then obviously that’s a problem because you are sort of undermining why Florida has the rules it has in place to make sure certain populations are served,” said Smith.

Others are coming from Canada to the US.

Martin Firestone is a travel insurance broker in Toronto, Canada, where the vaccine isn’t expected until fall. Many of his clients spend the winter months in Florida.

“They had no intentions of going down this year. Only when the vaccine became available or they heard from their friends who are down in the community now say ‘I got my first shot already. Like, why don’t you come down?’ That prompted them to so now say, ‘We’re ready and we’re heading down’,” explained Firestone, President of Travel Secure, Inc.

Washington had to react in January when it opened a vaccination site in Southwest Washington at the Clark County Fairgrounds, and quickly found Oregon residents lining up. The Washington Department of Health made it clear the vaccine was for people who live or work in the state.

“What really concerns me is you have Washingtonians waiting for the vaccine and they’re being shut out or they’re having to wait longer,” said Dr. Umair Shah, Washington Secretary of Health.

Dr. Shah has a warning for Washingtonians seeking vaccine somewhere else.

“If we’re going to ask that individuals refrain from coming into Washington to seek vaccines, we’re also going to say that those other states have every right to ask Washingtonians to refrain from coming into their states to get vaccine.”

For those willing to take the risk, keep in mind there’s no guarantee what you’ll get, even if you get a shot.

“That’s the problem, you don’t know you’re getting a real vaccine,” said Danishek.

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