Thais warned about vaccine tourism to US

Thais warned about vaccine tourism to US

Foreign Ministry says free-shot rule can change

A woman gets a Covid-19 vaccine at Lotus superstore in Klong Toey district on Tuesday. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)
A woman gets a Covid-19 vaccine at Lotus superstore in Klong Toey district on Tuesday. (Photo by Wichan Charoenkiatpakul)

Thais seeking to get free Covid-19 vaccines as part of tour packages to the United States should contact the Foreign Ministry first before paying since not all states offer the service, according to the Foreign Ministry.

Spokesman Tanee Sangrat said on Tuesday before making the decisions, buyers should check the regulations in the states they plan to to go since the situation is still fluid.

In general, people aged 16 and more who live in or have legally entered the US can seek Covid vaccination free of charge. However, the criteria and procedures differ in each state.

For example, he said, vaccine recipients are required to have permanent residences or jobs in some states. But in others, tourists may be able to get vaccinated by simply showing their passports.

Tour companies in Thailand may have been exploiting the opportunity to atrract people wishing to get vaccinated to buy their tour packages, especially to the states where travellers with temporary visas are still allowed to get free shots.

According to Mr Tanee, many states in the US have taken steps to bar vaccine tourism. The governor of Florida and the health department of Alabama recently said in media interviews that Covid-19 vaccines would be given to people with permanent residency only.

There are indications that the criteria for vaccine distribution can be quickly altered.

Therefore, Thai people who buy a vaccine package may risk not getting vaccinated at all or may even be denied entry by the US immigration.

Mr Tanee urged them to first check with the following Thai government agencies before paying for such a trip.

In Thailand, they can cantact the Consular Affairs Department, Foreign Ministry, by calling 02-572-8442 or through the Thai Consular mobile app.

In the US, they can contact:

- Thai Embassy in Washington DC, (+1 202-684-8493);
- Thai Consulate in Los Angeles (+1 323-962-9574);
- Thai Consulate in Chicago (+1 312-664-3129);
- Thai Consulate in New York (+1 212-754-1770, ext 304, 311 and 313)

According to ads seen by the Bangkok Post, a package to San Francisco, Monterey and Los Angeles of 10 days or seven nights including boarding and breakfast offers a vaccine made by Johnson & Johnson.

The prices range from 175,000 baht each for two persons to 76,000 baht each for a group of 8-10, excluding air fares.

The popularity of such packages is an indicator how desperate some Thais have been to get vaccinated in the wake of the third wave.

The government on Saturday kicked off vaccination registration for the first group who are not health workers — people aged 60 or more and those with seven existing conditions, but vaccination won't begin until June. Younger people can then register in July. 

Apart from the slow speed of vaccination, many are upset about the lack of vaccine choice.

Although the government aims to administer 100 million shots by the end of this year, more than half of them will be made by AstraZeneca and Sinovac, which are perceived to have lower efficacy rates than other brands widely used in the US.

While the government agreed to buy 35 million shots from US-based Pfizer and J&J and Russia-based Gamaleya, people are not allowed to choose the vaccine they will get.

People who can afford it therefore start looking to get immunised at private hospitals. However, it will take months for the alternative vaccines to be approved by Thailand's Food and Drug Administration and imported by the Government Pharmaceutical Organization for them.    

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