“Want the COVID-19 vaccine? Have a U.S. visa? Contact us,” reads a travel agency advertisement, offering deals to Mexicans to fly to the United States to get inoculated.
From Mexico to far-flung Argentina, thousands of Latin Americans are booking flights to the United States to take advantage of one of the world’s most successful vaccination campaigns, as rollouts in their own countries sputter.
Latin America is one of the regions worst affected by the coronavirus pandemic, with the death toll set to pass 1 million this month, and many do not want to wait any longer for their turn to get vaccinated.
Some people are going it alone, while others have tapped travel agencies, which have responded by offering packages that arrange the vaccine appointment, flights, hotel stay and even offer extras such as city and shopping tours.
Reuters was unable to find official data on how many Latin Americans are travelling to the United States to get vaccinated. Travellers do not generally state vaccination as a reason to travel.
But U.S. cities have caught on to the trend, which is ushering much needed business into cash-strapped hotels, restaurants and other service activities.
“Welcome to New York, your vaccine is waiting for you! We’ll administer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine at iconic sites across our city,” New York City’s government announced on Twitter on May 6.
Latin Americans who had travelled on a U.S. tourist visa that Reuters spoke to said they were able to obtain shots with IDs from their home countries.
While initially it was mostly wealthy Latin Americans looking to travel, increasingly people with more modest means are making bookings. For many, the cost of lengthy flights makes it a major undertaking.
The slow rollout of vaccinations in most Latin American countries was a common reason cited for travelling to the United States, those speaking to Reuters said.
With little to no infrastructure to make vaccines domestically, campaigns in Latin America have been hampered by supply delays and shortages. The United States has administered nearly 262 million vaccine doses, some 2.3 times the number of shots given in all of Latin America, which has roughly twice the population, according to figures from the U.S. Centres for Disease Control and Prevention and Our World in Data.
(Production: Alberto Fajardo, Carlos Carrillo, Josue Gonzalez, Rodolfo Pena Roja, Paul Vieira)