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‘Vaccine Tourists’ from LATAM Are Traveling to U.S. to Get Vaccinated

While the United States is slowly but surely (for now) coming out of the pandemic, some countries in Latin America are continuing to see spikes in Covid cases and deaths. More than one million people in Latin America and the Caribbean have died from Covid-19 according to the Pan American Health Organization. They report that 89 percent of the deaths occurred in five countries: Brazil (44.3 percent), México (22.1 percent), Colombia (8.3 percent), Argentina (7.3 percent) and Peru (6.7 percent). Three percent of the deaths were concentrated in Central America and 1 percent in the Caribbean. These startling statistics outweigh. the number of people who have been vaccinated with PAHO  Director Carissa F Etienne reporting only about 3 percent of LATAM citizens have been vaccinated. In response to the shortage of Covid vaccines, many have been traveling to the U.S. to get vaccinated.

“As a reference, in 2019, trips to North America concentrated 77 percent of trips outside the region. In March 2021 these trips reached 87 percent, an increase closely related to the significant number of ‘vaccine’ tourists who are going to the USA to get their injection,” Jose Ricardo Botelho, CEO of Latin American & Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA) told CNN.

Latin America and the Caribbean have received more than 12 million doses through the Covax facility, backed by the World Health Organization, as of May 21, but the program is experiencing shipment delays with what already is a limited number of vaccines, according to PAHO officials. Now through what’s being called “vaccine tourism”, people from hard hit countries in LATAM including Peru and Mexico are heading up to the U.S. to get the vaccine.

“If the vaccine does not come to you, it is time to go the vaccine,” Flavio San Martin from Peru told CNN. He’s a business consultant who travelled to Durham, North Carolina with his family on April 13 and received two doses of the Moderna vaccine. “I’m 46-years old and I didn’t think I could be vaccinated in my country before December. I have seen people dying getting closer and closer to home,” San Martin said.

Others who traveled from LATAM told CNN it’s also a way to allow others in their country to get the vaccine and it also helps stop the spread of the virus. With double the number of deaths as the U.S. and yet far less vaccinations, it feels like this pandemic is nowhere near the end in LATAM.

“The region is an epicenter for COVID-19 suffering. It should be an epicenter for vaccination, too,” Dr Etienne said. More than 153.5 million people have been immunized in the Americas, but only 21.6 percent of these are in Latin America and the Caribbean. Now with vaccine tourism it seems like residents have taken it upon themselves to try and slow the spread and get vaccinated.