Vaccine tourism: Canadians fly south for shot as US demand falls

Canada has inoculated only 3% of its almost 38 million people, but more than 34% have received a first dose


Reuters May 06, 2021

With Covid-19 vaccine demand declining in the United States, some Canadians facing third-wave lockdowns are flying south to get inoculated, perhaps months earlier than they would be able to at home.

Jimmy Simmons, 37, saw friends in their 40s struggling to get a shot in the hard-hit Canadian province of Ontario. The Toronto businessman decided to spend a few weeks in New York City to meet clients and get vaccinated. He got his first of two shots on Tuesday.

Simmons, who works in real estate, is not yet eligible for a vaccine in Ontario. His girlfriend, a medical student who treats Covid-19 patients at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children, has still only received one dose, he said.

"I want this (pandemic) to end, and in order for this end I need to get vaccinated," Simmons said. "Just sitting at home in Ontario isn't going to change anything."

While almost a third of Americans have been fully vaccinated, Canada has inoculated only 3% of its almost 38 million people, though more than 34% have received the first dose.

Canada is allowing for a four-month gap between doses, while Americans are getting their second shots three or four weeks after the first to reach optimal protection much sooner.

The US vaccination campaign has reached a tipping point, with supply outstripping demand due to a combination of factors including skepticism about the vaccines. The number of Americans seeking vaccines dropped by a third in recent weeks, according to the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. 

That is encouraging Canadians to cross the border and tap into this oversupply without paying any fee, which means the U.S. government is paying for foreign travelers to get their Covid-19 shots. The White House declined to comment.

Simmons and others had little trouble getting vaccinated at no charge in the United States, where the government is now practically begging people to get the shots and several states do not require proof of residency.

The trick was to fly because land crossing has been closed to non-essential traffic since March of 2020.

US President Joe Biden on Tuesday urged those who are hesitant to get a Covid-19 vaccine, saying it was a matter of "life or death." 

Everyone age 16 or older can get vaccinated in the United States, while in Ontario, most adults 18 and up will not be eligible for a first dose until May 24.

'REALLY EASY'

Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has said everyone who wants to can be fully vaccinated by the end of September. Andrew D'Amours, 31, of Quebec City, said that could mean "another half pandemic" without getting inoculated.

He flew to Dallas and got vaccinated on April 10. With his business partner at the Flytrippers travel website, D'Amours booked an appointment for the one-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine online.

"It took a couple clicks. We got an appointment in a grocery store pharmacy and we booked flights for the next day, Friday, and on Saturday morning we were vaccinated," D'Amours said.

While D'Amours used hotel and flight points, he estimated a weekend trip to Dallas - if two people share costs - could be as low as C$750 ($611) each. He flew directly from Montreal.

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