Combining a holiday with a medical or cosmetic surgery is not uncommon, but the COVID-19 pandemic has given birth to a new kind of tourism.
Vaccine tourism, where travellers go abroad to receive the much-coveted COVID-19 jab, are being offered by tour operators across Europe.
Is is legal to travel to another country to get vaccinated? Are tour operators allowed to offer these types of trips? And with millions across the world waited to be vaccinated, will local people miss out on jabs because supplies have been used up by foreign tourists?
Norwegians can travel to Russia to get vaccinated
Norwegian travel agency World Visitor is offering coronavirus vaccine getaways to Russia. Customers, who can choose from a range of travel packages that all include receiving the Russian-made Sputnik V vaccine.
For €1,199 you can take two trips in one month, one for each dose. For €2,999, customers can enjoy a luxury 22-day stay in a Russian health resort, with a jab at the beginning and the end of the trip.
A third option includes a trip to a spa hotel in Turkey, with layovers at Moscow airport, which is soon to boast a vaccination centre in the terminal.
Vaccine trips from Germany and Austria
German travel agency Fit Reisen (or “Fit Travel”) began offering vaccine vacations or, “Impfreisen,” in February this year.
“We have received an increasing number of customer inquiries as to whether it would not be possible to combine a health vacation with a COVID-19 vaccination,” a Fit Reisen spokesperson told Deutsche Welle.
The idea was put on hold as Germany had been expected to have stepped up its vaccination campaign by April, but as the country struggles to vaccinate its population, it may very well be back on the cards for the tour operator.
Meanwhile, Austrian company Impfreisen.at is offering nonbinding pre-bookings for a variety of all-inclusive vacation travel packages with “guaranteed access to the coronavirus vaccination”
“It is highly regrettable,” the company says on its website “and detrimental to all of us that the European Union failed to provide sufficient vaccines for all Europeans at the right time.”
For those who can’t afford it, Impfreisen is providing free trips to one-tenth of people who order its cheapest package, if they demonstrate a legitimate financial need.
Do governments support vaccine tourism?
Although there have been reports that Russia’s Sputnik V vaccination could be at the centre of a tourism programme starting this July, the Russian government has not officially given the green light for tourists to fly in for the jab.
On Twitter, the vaccine’s official Twitter account wrote “Sputnik V vaccination in Russia! Who’s onboard?” posting a photograph of people next to a plane with Sputnik written on it.
It continued that this was no joke and Russia is working on a programme to offer people abroad the chance to get vaccinated against COVID-19 in Russia with its Sputnik V shot from July,
Russia has so far been sceptical about launching such a programme. Kremlin spokesperson Dmitry Peskov has admitted it would be something the government would consider, although citizens are the “absolute priority.”
Meanwhile, rumours on social media of vaccination tours for tourists from Turkey to Serbia have been denied by Turkey’s ambassador to Belgrade and the Embassy of Serbia in Ankara. Only Turks with a Serbian resident’s permit are to be allowed a jab.
Is vaccine tourism legal?
At present, there are no official arrangements in place to ensure foreign visitors get the vaccination they have travelled for. So “vaccine tourists” could be left diappointed and out of pocket.
Some countries are making it clear that vaccine tourists are not welcome. In the UK, for example, you can only get the vaccine through the public health system, and you have to wait until your doctor offers it to you. At the appointment, you need to confirm personal details, such as your home address. It could be that other countries put measures like this in place.
How ethical is vaccine tourism?
Vaccine tourism could contribute towards the common goal of ending the coronavirus pandemic. But with the most of the world still waiting for their jab, is it fair that those with the financial means can make a holiday of it?
In some countries such as Serbia, where local populations have begun turning down the jab, be that through misinformation or other reasons for reluctance, offering surplus doses out before they expire could be the ethical thing to do.
But for populations in the developing world, vaccine tourism could slow down the already anxious wait for vaccine doses to arrive. Some richer countries have begun monopolising the global inoculation effort by hoarding excess vaccines. People jumping the queue through vaccine tourism is only likely to exacerbate the problem.
Have you travelled to get a vaccination? Or have you got a trip booked? Get in touch via Twitter.