(Financial) Wealth is Health: How Vaccine Tourism Reinforces Marginalization Through Healthcare Inequality

(Financial) Wealth is Health: How Vaccine Tourism Reinforces Marginalization Through Healthcare Inequality

Photo Credit: Ivan Diaz via Unsplash

Vaccine tourism, fuelled by those affluent enough to afford it, disrupts the equitable distribution of COVID-19 vaccines

Halimah Kasmani, The Mike Contributor

The COVID-19 pandemic has been a time of great uncertainty. Not only are people concerned for the health of both themselves and their loved ones, but many find the restrictions in place to be inconvenient. As a result, the impatience to become vaccinated against COVID-19 is widespread, as people are awaiting their opportunity to receive it. Canada, like most countries, has a priority system implemented within the vaccine rollout. This is meant to ensure that the most vulnerable populations, such as seniors, Indigenous people, and frontline workers, are able to receive protection from the virus as soon as possible.

As a result, a number of people ineligible for the vaccine in their country of residence have opted to partake in vaccine tourism: travelling to other countries with the intention of becoming vaccinated abroad. Countries that have garnered attention for vaccine tourism include Dubai and Israel. Unfortunately, despite Dubai’s astounding vaccine administration rate, there are concerns that migrant workers, who are responsible for the country’s rapid development, will not qualify to receive them. Yet, they are offering a free vaccine to anyone who chooses to work remotely within Dubai for a year. 

Likewise, Israel’s health department has faced criticism as of late, due to their attempts to use their leftover vaccines as a quasi-currency to indirectly ensure the recognition of Jerusalem as the Israeli capital by countries such as Guatemala and the Czech Republic. Israel has prioritized this use of their vaccines over distributing them to occupied Palestine. In fact, so far Palestinians can expect to receive, at most, half of the amount of vaccines that have been reserved for distant allies. Israel has promised to vaccinate Palestinian labourers, but this demonstrates that the health and safety of Palestinians is contingent on whether or not they contribute to the Israeli economy. The unfair distribution of vaccines is exacerbated by vaccine tourism. Travel agencies have set up packages offering expatriate Israeli nationals a round trip to Israel that would give them the chance to get vaccinated. In other words, these countries are overlooking demographics that desperately need access to the vaccine in favour of those who can buy their way in.

The incentive to permit this is clear. Vaccine tourism is able to stimulate an economic sector that has taken a massive blow due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns. Vaccine tourism is forbidden within Canada, but there have been attempts from non-eligible citizens trying to get vaccinated. For instance, in January 2021, an ultra-wealthy couple chartered a private jet to the small village of Beaver Creek, Yukon. They disguised themselves as frontline workers and tried to access vaccines intended for the Indigenous residents that primarily comprise the Beaver Creek population. Vaccine tourism reflects how privilege often results in improved health, even if it comes at the expense of others. However, healthcare is a human right and as vaccine rollout continues, fair distribution must remain our priority