By Carla Samon Ros and Fernando Gimeno
Lima, May 10 (EFE).- Sebastian Moron and his father, Mauricio, travel light as they pass through security checks for their flight from Lima to the United States, a Covid-19 vaccine promised land for thousands of Peruvians impatient with the inoculation rollout in their homeland.
“I’m 23 and I’ll be one of the last ones here (to get inoculated). With the political instability, we don’t know if we’ll get (vaccinated) this year,” Sebastian told Efe shortly before boarding a flight for Houston, where he and his father had booked a vaccine appointment.
Traveling on that same flight is Milga Ramirez, a 60-year-old woman with a residence in the US. Although under Peru’s immunization schedule she could be inoculated next month, she is unsure how long it will take and decided her best option was to travel.
The US is the main destination for thousands of affluent Peruvians who are impatient with a process that is just now picking up speed and thus far has only succeeded in immunizing 2 million people, or 5.4 percent of the population.
Amid the slow rollout, the number of Peruvians heading to the US rose sharply from 4,229 in February to 10,222 in March, according to figures from the National Superintendency of Migration.
An even bigger increase occurred in April, when as many as 40,000 people made that trip, according to the president of the Peruvian Travel and Tourism Agencies Association, Ricardo Acosta.
That spike in demand is reflected in the escalating price of airfare, Acosta told Efe, adding that flights are full and the airlines want to recover some of what they have lost during the pandemic.
Whereas during the pandemic round-trip tickets to Miami cost between $500 and $700, seats in economy class are now selling for more than $1,000 and even as much as $4,000 in some cases.
There are three types of vaccine tourists, the most common being the individual who makes a lighting visit to receive the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Acosta said.
A smaller number of people either opt for a two-dose vaccine that requires them to make a pair of round-trip journeys in a span of just a few weeks or stay in the US for about 30 days.
Although a significant price is involved no matter what, Acosta said the trip is well worth it because coronavirus patients face high treatment costs in Peru.
“You may spend an average of $2,000 on a trip, when an oxygen cylinder here currently costs 5,000 or 6,000 soles ($1,315 or $1,580) and the refill is between 1,500 and 2,000 soles,” Acosta said.
Alberto (a fictitious name) told Efe he prefers to be discreet about the trip because the issue of vaccine access is highly politicized in Peru, where a scandal erupted in February over the irregular and clandestine administering of vaccines to senior government officials.
Vaccine tourists also can inadvertently spread the disease if they become complacent about preventative measures like mask wearing and social distancing, since recipients of a Covid-19 shot avoid the risk of serious complications from the disease but still can contract the coronavirus.
In that regard, there have been cases of people vaccinated in the US who spread the illness to their loved ones with fatal consequences, Acosta said. EFE