Giovanni Torres and his wife Angela flew from Bogotá to New York. Their goal: to get vaccinated against Covid-19, just like the tourists from Mexico, Honduras, Ecuador, El Salvador and Venezuela who were interviewed by AFP waiting for their dose on the beach in Miami.
Costa Rican travel agencies reportedly expect 10,000 Ticos to visit the United States in order to get their shots.
But for the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO), traveling to other countries to be vaccinated does not solve the Covid-19 crisis; it only proves the inequity in access to doses on the continent.
“We do not have the data to confirm how many Latin Americans are traveling to the United States to access vaccines,” Carissa Etienne, director of PAHO, the regional office of the World Health Organization (WHO), said on Wednesday.
But she was emphatic on the subject: “Let me say that vaccine tourism is not the solution, but rather a symptom of the inequality in the distribution of vaccines in the Americas.”
In the American continent, home to more than 1 billion people, 384 million have received at least one dose of a Covid vaccine, of which more than 258 million are in the United States, according to the PAHO.
At a press conference, Etienne considered “unacceptable” that those who cannot pay for international travel, that is, “the vast majority of people in our region,” cannot be immunized.
“Vaccines can make the difference between life and death and should not be a privilege of rich countries or wealthy people, but a right of everyone,” she said.
“Ultimately, vaccine tourism exacerbates inequality,” she stressed.
To counter this, she said, PAHO works with the global Covax mechanism — promoted by WHO to ensure equitable access to vaccines — and with suppliers to expedite deliveries. It also encourages donations and regional manufacturing.
“Given the epidemiological burden in our region and the high mortality of Covid in many countries, Latin America and the Caribbean should be a priority for immunizations to help save lives and prevent future outbreaks,” she said.