How far would you go to get the COVID-19 vaccine? And how early are you willing to book? A WhatsApp forward selling the idea of ‘vaccine tourism’ has been doing the rounds over the weekend. Attributed to Gem Tours & Travels, it offers “a few select VVIP clients” a trip from Mumbai to New York, along with a vaccine dosage and three-night, four-day stay including breakfast, all at a cost of Rs1.75lakh. The cost of visas, ground transportation and taxes will have to be borne by the traveller, the message says.
When, where and how?
Like the rest of the world, we had many questions. And so we called the number on the agency’s website to confirm the details. After trying a bunch of numbers listed on their website, the call was finally answered by someone who claimed to be an employee at Gem Tours & Travels in Mumbai. “Currently, we are only taking registrations with [people’s] contact information, passport copy and details on any pre-existing conditions that they may have,” said the person. “Deposits will only be accepted when the vaccine is out for distribution [in the US], and non-citizens and foreign nationals are eligible for it,” he said. Have they tied up with a medical provider in the United States, we asked? No response. How many people have registered until now? “Enquiries have been pouring in. We have offices across India, and are yet to compile the numbers. But we cannot disclose the information.” Will they be rolling out a similar package to other countries with vaccines? “Only the United States for now.” On asking him for his name and designation, the phone was put down.
We also called the number being circulated on WhatsApp: again, we were told that they were only taking registrations for now. Anyone who wished to register should send their details to [email protected], the person said.
So when does the vaccine hit the US?
The United States expects to begin vaccinations as early as 11 December. Two candidates, Pfizer and Moderna, have shown to be 95% effective with no major safety concerns. Pfizer has applied for emergency use authorisation to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration. The FDA vaccine advisory committee is slated to meet on 10 December. The vaccines are expected to be sent to the immunisation sites within 24 hours from approval, Moncef Slaoui of the FDA told CNN. Slaoui estimated that 20 million people across the United States will be vaccinated in December, with 30 million per month after that. Since there won’t be enough shots initially, high-priority groups such as healthcare workers, the elderly and people with underlying medical conditions will be given first preference.
When does the COVID-19 vaccine arrive in India?
As for India, health minister Harsh Vardhan has said we might not “need Pfizer”, as there are at least five vaccine candidates in the country under trial, of which three are going through phase 2/3 clinical trials. Serum Institute of India, which is manufacturing the AstraZeneca/Oxford vaccine, says it will have 100 million doses ready to roll out in January. The AstraZeneca vaccine has a 70% efficiency, but is more suited to Indian conditions, particularly since it can be stored at relatively higher temperatures. Who gets it first? We’ll have to wait and watch.