Mexico: “Do you want the COVID-19 vaccine? Do you have a US visa? Contact us,” reads a travel agency ad giving offers to Mexicans to fly to the United States to be vaccinated.
From Mexico to remote Argentina, thousands of Latin Americans book flights to the US to get benefit of one of the world’s most flourishing vaccination campaigns, such as the rollout in their own countries.
Latin America is one of the regions worst struck by the coronavirus pandemic. The death toll reached 1 million this month, and many people no longer wanted to wait for their turn to be vaccinated.
Some people go it alone, while other travel agencies have tapped in, responding by offering packages that arrange vaccination vaccinations, flights, hotel accommodation and even extras like city and shopping travels.
Gloria Sanchez, 66, and her husband, Angel Menendez, 69, travelled to Las Vegas in late April to receive Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N)’s a single-dose vaccine.
“We do not trust the public health services in this country,” said Sanchez, now back in Mexico. “If we had not travelled to the United States where I felt a little more comfortable, I would not have been vaccinated here.”
A travel agent in Mexico City arranged the trip for them, and an employee in Las Vegas handled matters on the US side, Sanchez said.
The US employee reported them for a vaccine appointment and then drove to a Las Vegas convention centre, where they were presented with their Mexican passports and received their shots.
“We decided to make it a holiday and went for a whole week, like crazy walking, really expensive but eating good food and shopping,” Sanchez said.
As demand has risen, airfares from Mexico to the United States have increased by a percentage of 30% -40% since mid-March, said Rey Sanchez, who manages the travel company RSC Travel World.
“There are thousands of Mexicans and thousands of Latin Americans who have travelled to the US to be vaccinated,” he said, adding that Houston, Dallas, Miami and Las Vegas were the best destinations.
Reuters could not find official data on how many Latin Americans travel to the United States to be vaccinated. Travellers usually do not cite vaccination as a reason to travel.
But US cities have embraced the trend, leading the much-needed business into cash-strapped resorts, restaurants and other service projects.
“Welcome to New York; your vaccine is waiting for you! We will be administering the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at iconic sites in our city,” the New York government announced on Twitter on May 6.
The US Embassy in Peru recently advised residents on Twitter that travellers can visit the United States for medical treatment, including vaccinations.
Latin Americans travelling with a US tourist visa said they could get shots with IDs from their home countries.
As far south as Argentina, travel agencies sell tourist trips.
An ad in Buenos Aires outlines the estimated cost of getting vaccinated in Miami: plane ticket $ 2,000, hotel for a week $ 550, cost $ 350, car rental $ 500, vaccine $ 0. For a total of $ 3,400.
NO HOPE OF A DUCK
Although it was primarily wealthy Latin Americans who wanted to travel, people with more modest means increasingly make reservations. The cost of long flights makes it an essential business for many people.
“I’m making money together to visit California in June,” said a worker in a car parts store in Lima, who requested not to be named, fearing it could jeopardize his travel plans. “Considering how things are going here, there is no hope of a vaccination shot soon.”
Sanchez said the slow introduction of vaccinations in most Latin American countries was a common reason to travel to the United States.
With little or no infrastructure to make vaccines domestically, campaigns in Latin America have been hampered by supply delays and shortages. According to data from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and our world in data, the United States has administered nearly 262 million vaccine doses, about 2.3 times the number of shots given across Latin America.
Distrust in vaccination campaigns in Latin America is likewise a factor, Sanchez said.
Reports of many false doses seized by authorities or that the required second dose was not prepared when it was time are some of the reasons given by Latin Americans for their distrust.
Vaccination tourism has fueled a boost in air travel to the United States, with last-minute fares double folding or even tripling since January, even as airlines expand capacity, according to Rene Armas Maes, commercial vice president ent at MIDAS Aviation, a London-based consulting firm.
LATAM Airlines Group (LTM.SN), the largest airline in the region, said Thursday it sees greater demand from South Americans wanting to travel to the United States. to be vaccinated against the coronavirus.
According to Aeromexico (AEROMEX.MX), passenger traffic between Mexico and the United States increased by 35% from March to April.
And American Airlines (AAL.O) also said that demand has proliferated from parts of Latin America over the past few months. It has increased capacity, especially in Colombia, Ecuador and Mexico.
“We are reacting to the increased demand in many of these markets, with additional frequencies, new routes or the use of wide-body aircraft, resulting in more capacity,” American Airlines said.
For 29-year-old Giuliana Colameo, the chance to be vaccinated was a relief after she and her boyfriend were infected with the coronavirus in Mexico City in 2020.
They travelled to New York City, where they were vaccinated at a pharmacy last month. She said they were the only two people who got the shots.
“If they give you the vaccine, it’s like you’re almost crying. It’s a relief: it gives you hope,” Colameo said. “I feel thrilled that I did it, and hopefully, more people can do it.”