Travel agencies in Thailand are offering vaccine vacations to those who have become impatient with the country’s vaccine rollout.
Thailand began rolling the COVID-19 vaccine earlier this month, mostly using the AstraZeneca jab, but many have reported that booking an appointment is confusing and “chaotic”.
ABC News reported that an app used to book appointments crashed on its first day and cancelled appointments without alerting patients, and hospitals have had to postpone many appointments due to doses not turning up in time.
As a result, travel businesses in the country have been cashing in by offering trips to the US and even Russia to get the jab and see the sights while they’re at it.
One agency, Unithai Trip, is offering packages to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York priced between 75,000 baht ($3,100) and 200,000 baht($8,200), according to Reuters, and another called Udachi is offering a 23-day “VACCation in Russia” for the Sputnik V vaccine from 210,000 baht ($8,700).
The trips typically come with visits to tourist sites as well as to a pharmacy where they can get the jab, with cost and length depending on how long a gap is needed between the first and second shots.
Rachphol Yamsaeng, owner of Unithai Trip, told ABC News that he and his business partner learned that tourists could get the vaccine in the US during a trip to the country a few months ago.
“We didn’t believe it … but we tried anyway, and we got in the queue in two days,” Yamsaeng said.
“I walked in and got the jab. I was shocked. I thought it was a fluke.”
He said that when his company first began offering vaccine trips, they received “hundreds of thousands of calls”, but demand eased once people worked out how expensive it would be.
“They do need to have money, but money is not enough. They need to have time as well because of quarantine on the way back,” he said.
Thai TV host Jakkrit Yompayorm told ABC News he recently returned from the US, where he received two doses of the Pfizer vaccine at a Walmart pharmacy.
“I know that [the] vaccine is good for me and for everyone, so I wanted to get vaccinated, and I don’t know how long I [would have had] to wait if I stayed in Thailand,” he said.
“I’m not confident in the quality of Sinovac, so I wanted to get the vaccine that could make me confident.”
Though the vaccine was free, Yompayorm spent around $4,200 on airfares and travel-related expenses, including 14 days in hotel quarantine on his return.
“It is a choice that I can choose, I think if you have enough money you can go and get vaccinated in the US, but actually I think the [Thai] government should provide a good vaccine for everyone,” he said.
“The main reason I made the decision to go to the US is that I want to be safe.”
According to Johns Hopkins University, Thailand recorded 3,995 new cases in the past day and 42 deaths, bringing the ongoing death toll up to 1,912.
The Bangkok Post reported that cases in Thailand are now rising faster than every European country except the UK, at about the same rate as the US.
Featured image source: iStock/FatCamera