Vaccine Tourism: Why I’ll Probably Get My COVID-19 Vaccines Abroad

As more and more people outside the risk groups are receiving vaccines, I’ve been thinking about how to get one myself. Vaccine tourism is becoming a better option than making a trip to the Netherlands and risking getting stuck there. This post is probably highly unrelatable unless you’re also a Dutch passport holder, nomadic, and in a relationship with someone with a different passport.

Where Am I?

I’m happy to already be in a country with a high vaccination grade: the United Arab Emirates (UAE). At the time of writing, the UAE has administered 76.88 doses per 100 people. Only Israel (pop. > 9.200.000) and Seychelles (pop. < 100.000) and a handful of small British Overseas Territories have a higher vaccination grade. And it’s the UAE and India who are sending vaccines to Seychelles. The UAE uses four vaccines: Sinopharm, Pfizer, Sputnik V, and AstraZeneca.

our world in data + NCEMA graphs

Left graph from a UAE government website (latest data 24th of March). The graph on the right from Our World In Data (latest data March 23rd).

For now, these vaccines are only available to citizens and residents—and people willing to pay US$70.000 for a month-long trip to the UAE. I’m neither of these. But I’m expecting that both Israel and the UAE will open for vaccine tourism once they’ve double-vaccinated a satisfactory percentage of their own populations. This threshold lies at 50 – 80%. There’s a lot of talk about how often one needs to receive a booster vaccine after initial vaccination, but I won’t get into that. Let’s just say that after you’ve received two COVID-19 vaccines, you’re good.

gulf news newspaper dubai pfizer vaccine tourism

That’s not ‘jumping the queue’ if a country is waaay ahead in its own vaccine program. It’s voting with your wallet for that country’s negotiation skills, logistics, distribution, and healthcare system.

If the price is right, I’m probably the first in line to simply pay for two doses of a COVID-19 vaccine.

Medical Tourism is Great

Jonas and I are big fans of medical tourism. I’ve done it for maintenance work such as dentistry. I’ve done it to get a yes from a Thai doctor because Dutch doctors said no. And I’ve also done it to receive and boost my other vaccines, such as yellow fever in Honduras and hepatitis B in Germany, Thailand, and Malaysia. We don’t mind paying for it.

who should pay for coronavirus? Me if we're talking about a coronavirus vaccine

I prefer paying more for a private clinic where we don’t have to wait. I prefer it over using my stupid Dutch health insurance that covers nothing, prescribes vaseline or paracetamol for every ailment, and will treat you sometime next year unless it’s raining and only when you’re already dead. Socialized healthcare works only for sedentary people with time on their hands who believe they live in a great country because at least it’s not the USA.

When Is it My Turn in the Netherlands?

I considered returning to the Netherlands in 2021 to visit family after quarantine and to get my COVID-19 jabs. My two grandmas have already received their full doses of Pfizer. Right now, it’s looking like the general population – which includes my mom and me – will be eligible for vaccines in July. July is not a bad time to be in the Netherlands. So I considered traveling there and staying a month to receive both shots.

But..! The caveat of caveats: currently, the Netherlands doesn’t allow its citizens to leave the country without good reason. Worded vaguely, the government website says “People who live in the Netherlands should stay in the Netherlands”.

nothing frightens me more part 1

Source: Dutch Government website. The screenshot says 15 May, but they only partially updated this page to May 15th. This underlines my point that they just keep extending and extending to kill your hope but slowly

nothing frightens me more

Source: Dutch Government website. They can’t even keep one simple webpage consistent. They’re un-fucking-believable

They say this policy will last until May 15th. But we all know they’re probably going to extend this policy again with the summer holidays coming up. I’m not sure to what degree they can/will enforce this, but it’s the scariest thing I’ve ever heard. Nothing is worth the risk of getting trapped in that country.

I’ve discussed this extensively with Jonas. He’s German and a policy like this simply wouldn’t fly in Germany; 20% of its population is deeply traumatized by not being allowed to leave till 1989. But then again, lots of things have happened in the last year that we thought would never fly in the face of Freedom™.

Though I am a resident of the Netherlands, Jonas isn’t one of Germany. He probably could not receive his vaccines in Germany. Us getting our vaccines in different countries at different times is also not preferable.

A consequence of all these circumstances is that vaccine tourism is also becoming the only valid way to obtain my COVID-19 vaccines.

Old News: Vaccine Passports Are Coming

Within the EU, there’s a lot of talk about vaccine passports and recognizing each other’s vaccines. Southern European countries that heavily rely upon tourism (e.g. Spain) are unilaterally deciding to let people in if they can prove they’ve been vaccinated. Any official vaccine passport will come too late for the 2021 summer holidays. Outside of the EU, Seychelles, Belize, Guatemala, and a few others will already let you enter if you’ve completed your vaccinations. There are special travel privileges to be obtained with a vaccine. I’d be a fool not to try and get some.

Lots of people are against vaccine passports to travel, saying they’re discriminatory. However, vaccine passports – or vaccine travel documents – aren’t a new idea; international certificates for vaccinations have been a thing since 1933. Any serious traveler who has been to any of the 18 countries that require proof of yellow fever vaccination prior to entry has a Yellow Card.

CDC photo vaccine 20th century Yellow Card yellow fever vaccine passport proof certificate vaccine tourism

I repeat: this isn’t a new thing. Why are people in Facebook groups suddenly upset?

Vaccine Diplomacy vs Nationalist Dumbfuckery

But for serious travelers, it’s not just a certificate of vaccination one needs to clear immigration; it’s also which vaccine you choose if you get a choice. Last week China announced that it would let foreigners from some countries enter if they’ve been immunized with one of the Chinese-made vaccines.

Hard power move, because most of the countries listed (including many ‘western’ countries) haven’t authorized the use of either Sinopharm or Sinovac. This could eventually force a lot of governments to authorize China’s vaccines and put money on the table.

Sinopharm vaccine China covid-19 vaccine tourism Sinovac vaccine China covid-19 vaccine tourism

This is a very different approach from what the Chinese government has done with other countries that are less rich or don’t have the capability to produce their own vaccines. Since Chinese labs didn’t have enough community spread within China to trial the vaccines, they did those trials abroad in Asian, African, and South American countries. Presumably in exchange for early shipments once the trials were a success.

And it is a success. The list of countries that approved either Sinopharm or Sinovac reads like a brochure of the non-aligned movement. That is vaccine diplomacy in action. Solidarity in shitty times.

Macau covid-19 vaccination Sinovac or Sinopharm

Meanwhile, in my very simplified worldview, the EU, UK, and USA are bitching among themselves, showing that they’re still the same greedy motherfuckers that birthed colonialism and imperialism. Examples: this whole thing of the EU banning the export of shitty AstraZeneca vaccines. Or that the USA won’t export anything until its own needs are met. And that Canada placed enough orders to vaccinate its population nine times over is all disgusting. Not to mention the petty vaccination rankings of EU member states, which the Dutch news reports on weekly.

They seemed to have forgotten that creating all COVID-19 vaccines was only in small part ‘healthy competition’. What was it mostly? International cooperation.

vaccination laboratory covid-19 science community is strength bullshit sign fake solidarity

Why I’ll Get Sinopharm or Sinovac (If I Get a Choice)

The result is that countries that have a vaccine deal with China will recognize Sinopharm and Sinovac vaccination certificates. They won’t necessarily recognize any of the ‘fancy’ vaccines, such as Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson that have been hogged by western nations. As an EU citizen, I don’t think I will have any problems entering western countries—with or without Sinopharm shot. Besides, once I’ve quarantined, I can stay in most of these countries virtually forever. Getting a Pfizer shot won’t open doors to me that aren’t already open.

When going to a country that has been priced out of the fancy vaccines but has received China’s ‘sharing is caring’ approach, it might benefit me to have a Sinopharm vaccination certificate. It is complementary to my passport, not more of the same.

That’s why with the current information I have, I’d opt to receive the Sinopharm vaccine today. This might change depending on how the vaccine wars will play out on the global stage.

vaccine covid-19 bin Indonesia medical waste

An Aside: It’s Time to Modernize the Yellow Card

But in general, it’s time to modernize and internationalize vaccination certificates. The Yellow Card is dated and is made of poor material for something that should be important. Mine literally has a stamp of Joseph Stalin’s face from the museum of the same name in Gori, Georgia. Besides, its association with yellow fever and only yellow fever is limiting. In the future, whatever the new vaccination document will be… It should be as important as carrying around your passport when traveling abroad.

Preferably, the next generation yellow card will be digital. I know, I know, many people in the west freak out at the idea of digitization. They’re fine sharing the biometric details of themselves and their ugly-ass kids with Facebook on the daily. But heaven forbid a doctor could access their vaccination record of when, where, and what they’ve received in the past. I think people are overestimating the harm that can be done with basic vaccine data and underestimating the harm of… Instagram.

vaccine tourism vaccine passport covid-19 international travel

In 2013–14 there was a new measles outbreak in the Dutch Bible belt because so many parents didn’t vaccinate their kids. I vaguely remember that the epidemic was brought over from similar anti-vax communities in the USA. Because somehow God forbids you to protect your kids from a dumb disease that belongs in the past, but boarding an airplane to cut through the skies is somehow fine.

Anti-Vaxxers are a Menace

That brings me to the next point: I don’t think you deserve to travel internationally if you aren’t vaccinated against the big basic diseases. These vaccines have been around forever. They’ve been tested thoroughly. They’ve lifted humanity out of waving your loved one goodbye after they’ve scratched themselves on a rusty nail or caught whooping cough. These are terrible diseases we’ve practically overcome with vaccines. Rejecting them isn’t just dumb, it’s an insult to hardworking scientists who don’t have time to debate vaccine safety on the internet.

Complying with these basic vaccines is taking reasonable social responsibility for living among other humans. Every country can make their own rules of entry. I think it’s time they use that power and keep out the conspiracists and the diseases they bring along. I don’t think this is a radical idea at all.

But at the same time… it should become so much easier to obtain a (booster) vaccine. And I think the best place to get your booster vaccines or those special vaccines against tropical diseases is at your arrival at the airport of your destination right before immigration. Then they can update your hypothetical digital vaccine certificate on the spot, protect their own populations, remind people of their duty to protect others if they physically can, and refuse entry to the anti-vax assholes and Karens of the world.

covid protest UK anti-vax white woman vaccine mask 2020

Update: Countries That Already Do Vaccine Tourism

After publishing and sharing this piece, several people have messaged me about countries that are already open for vaccine tourism on a budget.

One of them is Cuba, with its SOBERANA 02 vaccine that will take two shots spread out over 28 days. They’ve trialed this vaccine in Cuba and Iran. Cuba will probably produce doses for the other ‘outcasts of the world’, including Venezuela and of course Iran. I wonder how widely-accepted this vaccine will become once it rolls out. Though a month in Cuba sounds good to me, it’s a bit far from my current location and I have yet to see the benefit of getting a Cuban-made vaccine. The vaccination campaign for locals and tourists will probably begin in April.

Another one is Serbia, which has a different problem: it ordered and received too many doses of vaccine. After the UK, Serbia has the second-highest vaccination rate in Europe. In mid-March, they started offering the vaccine to foreigners for free, being total good guys and not letting that good vaccine juice go to waste. In this video, you can see the logo of the vaccine on the vaccine booth. They include AstraZeneca, Pfizer, and Sinopharm! If they keep doing this, I’m considering going to Serbia to get a Sinopharm jab. Ironically, if we had continued our Kayak+Work trip down the Danube in 2021, we’d be in Serbia right about now 🙃

This same video also talks about Mauritius offering shots to long-term tourists on remote working premium visas, but that island country is incredibly far away for most people. Right now, there’d also be a two-week quarantine inside your hotel room on arrival.

Thanks for Reading! Consider buying me a Shot (Vodka/Rum/Whiskey/Gammel Dansk/Sinopharm)

Open in wallet

Stock photos by CDC, Mufid Majnun, Lukas, Macau Photo Agency, the blowup, Samuel Regan-Asante, John Cameron, Markus Winkler on Unsplash.

One thought on “Vaccine Tourism: Why I’ll Probably Get My COVID-19 Vaccines Abroad

  1. Fascinating read! I entirely agree with you. The best vaccine, in my opinion, is the one closest to your arm. It sounds like your are making the right decision.

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