New York and Other Major Cities Are Encouraging Vaccine Tourism – But At What Cost?
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control reported today that 40% of the U.S. population has now been fully vaccinated against COVID-19. But those numbers aren’t as high in other parts of the world.
In the U.S., the challenge has been encouraging Americans to get vaccines. Supply has outstripped demand since April, MIT Technology Review reports. States like New York, Ohio and West Virginia are offering incentives and perks, as are many businesses and also brands like Krispy Kreme and United Airlines, CNET reported. Other countries, however, don’t have access to the vaccines, which is sparking vaccine tourism from places like Latin America into the U.S., CNN reports.
Jose Ricardo Botelho, CEO of Latin American & Caribbean Air Transport Association (ALTA), told CNN that trips outside the region into the U.S. have reached 87% in March 2021, which exceeds numbers from 2019, when 77% of those from Latin America who traveled abroad were visiting the U.S. for either business or leisure.
The CDC told CNN that “jurisdictions cannot add United States citizenship requirements or require United States citizenship verification as a condition for vaccination.” Which leaves residents of other countries free to travel where they wish – in absence of other travel restrictions, of course – to receive their shots in a timely manner.
Cities like New York are taking advantage of the demand to boost local economies through tourism. “We’re setting up mobile vaccination opportunities for tourists in some of the best trafficked parts of New York City, the places that tourists love to go… I think this is part of the welcome back to New York City. We want everyone to be safe,” Mayor Bill de Blasio said earlier in May.
While vaccines are free in the U.S., the price for a flight from Jorge Chavez International Airport in Lima, Peru to New York’s JFK airport for the weekend of June 11, with a Monday return, range from $678 to $1,222 on Expedia right now. If someone wanted to do a one-day turn-around, they could pay as much as $4,000. Of course, unless they receive the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, they’d either need to stay three weeks for Pfizer or almost a month for Moderna, or book a return flight, which is around the same price for travel on July 9 – 11.
Hotels in New York vary widely in price, with rooms available in Midtown Manhattan for under $200 per night, according to Expedia listings.
However, many travelers may have unused travel vouchers from trips that were cancelled during the pandemic. Since that money was already spent, and not every airline is offering refunds, people may feel that using those airline tickets to get a vaccine can help them move forward with their lives safely.
But is it safe to have unvaccinated people traveling in close quarters on planes? Some airlines, including American Airlines and JetBlue, require a negative Covid-19 test for travelers, which can reduce most of the risk. With a negative test required to fly, plus the use of social distancing and masks, the risks of having unvaccinated people visiting the U.S. from other countries is no greater than the risk of shopping, eating and working with unvaccinated people who already live here.
The bottom line is that the tourism dollars travelers bring to New York and other major cities may help revitalize economies, especially in the hospitality industry, which showed 17% fewer jobs, nationwide, in April 2021 than in February 2020.
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