Mexican doctor Alejandro C. received the covid vaccine “at last” two weeks ago. At 8:00 am, he walked over to a large and well-signposted room, answered some questions about his health, and after five minutes they gave him the first dose of Moderna. The only thing that bothers him is that it was not in his country. This private traumatologist and orthopedist from the city of Guadalajara, Mexico, traveled to San Diego, in the United States, to get immunized, because he was “sick of waiting.” In Mexico, private sector health workers have, in most cases, been left out of the national vaccination campaign. They are not considered frontline covid staff. “I have been dodging the coronavirus for a year. And I could endure more, I work with patients who I don’t know if they are infected or not, ”he criticizes. “I am disappointed in my country.” The desperation of many Latinos and the laxity with which the doses are administered in various US territories have triggered what is known as “vaccine tourism.”
Carlos Gutiérrez, a cardiologist at the San Antonio de Guadalajara Private Hospital in Mexico, also got tired of waiting for his country. On April 23, he traveled with his wife and son to Texas, in the United States, and received the first dose of Pfizer at a pharmacy. He is eager to receive the next one. In the center where he works, 24% of health personnel have been infected with coronavirus. “Some have died and others are in serious condition. Of course, private doctors are in danger too! You don’t ask the patient for a PCR before treating him, ”he says. “It is not something dark, I was vaccinated thanks to the open policies of the United States,” the 47-year-old doctor said by phone.
Both health workers saw this situation coming, which is outrageous to them. “When Mexico started buying vaccines, it already anticipated that we would not have access, because it is completely politicized,” explains Alejandro C., who prefers not to give his last name for fear of reprisals.
Gutiérrez adds: “We knew they would not take us into account.” So they had been looking for a plan b since December. “I have friends in California and Texas and I told them to be attentive to see how I could do it,” says the 45-year-old traumatologist. A Californian colleague called him a little over a month ago and assured him that they could do it there; and he took it upon himself to get him the appointment in San Diego. “I have had no symptoms or pain and it was very easy to do it. It was faster to get vaccinated in the United States than to wait for Mexico to prick me, ”he laments. On May 20 you should go for the second dose. “What I have clear is that I will take my wife with me,” he anticipates. “The Americans will continue to allow it because for them it is income; it is tourism ”.
Although many Latin Americans fear having problems with their visa or with the US authorities, several states promote “fairness in immunization campaigns.” On your list of frequently asked questions from the Department of Colorado Public Health, are clearly stated: “You do not need to be a US citizen or demonstrate that you reside legally to obtain the covid vaccine.” And they also assure from the website: “We will never share information for legal or immigration purposes.” As of March 29, the only requirement in Texas is to be “over 16 years old.” There “no residence or citizenship is requested to receive a vaccine, nor a social security number.” And in Louisiana, for a month, either. In at least five states residency is not a requirement for this free injection.
In this exception, travel agencies and portals have seen an opportunity, which already offer it as a star package. “Appointment for vaccination, round trip air ticket, accommodation, car rental, travel insurance and advice”, for less than 1,000 dollars – 820 euros – from Guatemala City to the US Other Mexican companies offer the package “Get vaccinated in Texas ”from 20,000 pesos, just over 800 euros. This includes the Aguascalientes-Dallas-Aguascalientes flights, three nights of lodging in a Hampton hotel —with breakfast included— and transfers from the airport to the hotel.
Since the pandemic began, the main concern of the Mexican psychologist Ana, 53, has been the health of her diabetic son. “Even if he was a risk patient, in Mexico they would not have vaccinated him until 2022, because he is only 18 years old,” he says by phone. A few months ago he asked his cousin, who lives in Texas (United States) if it would be possible to vaccinate him there. “She told me that yes, there were a lot of people who did it,” he acknowledges. It was her cousin who filled in a link with the basic data of the Mexican psychologist’s son until she got an appointment. “They ran out so fast that I had to try at dawn,” he clarifies. The teenager received the second dose on April 14 in San Antonio, Texas.
“Yes, we went before it was allowed, but I had to protect him,” he says. For her, who took advantage of the trip to get vaccinated as well, the process is simple but expensive. “We had to pay for both tickets both times, but it was a necessary expense. Although he brought the sensor to prove that he really was diabetic and all our documentation was in order, they did not ask us for anything. Just the quote. This mother says she understands the “moral dilemma and controversy” that traveling to the United States to get vaccinated can generate, but assures that she would have waited her turn “if she were not a risk patient.”
“We don’t think twice”
Mónica Rovira’s husband, Colombian and resident of Guatemala City, hardly doubted it. Their work involves traveling to various Latin American countries and especially to the United States, because they are based there. “Several of my American friends told me that it was their turn and I thought: But they haven’t even vaccinated the old people here!” A little over a month ago her husband was summoned for a meeting in Phoenix and the organizer suggested that he get vaccinated. “We evaluated the pros and cons, at first we did not know how legal it was, but we realized that it was possible,” he explains. “[Mi marido] He says that everything went well and that they never even asked him for the documentation ”.
On Guatemala, “limited” access vaccines and the obstacles caused by an individual registration system are turning the vaccination campaign into an obstacle course. Rovira does not rule out being the next to travel to the United States to receive the puncture. Nor take their parents. “They are pastors of the Church and every time they visit someone to bring food or celebrate a funeral it is difficult for them to maintain social distance. They hug them, they cry over them … ”, she says worriedly. “In addition, we do not have citizenship [guatemalteca] and we don’t really know what’s going to happen to us either. Could it be that they take us into account?
With the same doubts, Andreína Arocha, a 30-year-old brand manager from Caracas, was only able to travel with her mother, leaving behind her father and husband, who do not have a visa. On April 12, she received the first dose of Pfizer in Florida and the second appointment on May 4. “Vaccination does not seem so feasible in my country. We have no perspective on when it can start. And it is something very important ”, he explains through a message. Although he spent $ 1,500 on each ticket, he says he would take the whole family if he could. The 23-year-old Colombian lawyer Alberto (not his real name) thought the same: “I didn’t want to be the one who brought the virus to my house. My parents have a certain age and weaknesses ”, he explains. For him, traveling to receive immunization is very revealing: “It shows the disparity of resources between countries. And how in one country they are vaccinating with hardly any questions, while in another you don’t know if you are going to be able to receive it ”.
Eddie is an Australian news reporter with over 9 years in the industry and has published on Forbes and tech crunch.