Vaccine tourism: Can you travel to get a COVID-19 vaccine in Dubai? Not yet

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Dubai has offered the Pfizer/BioNTech and Sinopharm vaccines to citizens and residents for free starting in mid-December last year.

With the Emirate making a public declaration that it will inoculate 70 percent of its population with the Pfizer vaccine by the end of 2021, some non-residents have begun to wonder as to whether they may be able to travel to Dubai for the vaccine.

As of now, Dubai does not offer vaccines to non-residents, including tourists.

According to the Medical Tourism Index report for 2020/2021, Dubai and Abu Dhabi ranked sixth and ninth respectively among the world’s best medical destinations, settling among Canada, Singapore, India, Germany and the UK.

COVID-19 vaccines in Dubai

Prior to the pandemic, the Dubai Health Tourism Council was on track to achieve its goal of 500,000 medical visitors per year by 2021.

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The medical tourism industry was one of the first economic victims of the COVID-19 pandemic.

In the Middle East, healthcare and medical tourism is key to rebooting the broader tourism industry following the coronavirus-fueled slump, according to Colliers International.

With the rollout of COVID-19 vaccines, the field might be re-emerging with some new trends, including more rapid development of high-end medical accommodation and vaccine tourism.

Vaccine tourism: Future possibility

Extensive testing of both foreigners and nationals will be central to rebuilding patients’ confidence in medical tourism destinations, according to a 2020 report by Oxford Business Group.

The UK was the first country to approve the emergency rollout of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine on 2 December, subsequently approving the Oxford/AstraZeneca jab as well.

Shortly after, some travel agencies in India announced tourist packages including a COVID-19 vaccine jab, potentially benefiting from UK’s massive vaccination drives, according to Indian-based daily The Economic Times.

One way of offering the COVID-19 vaccine in a tourist package would be to privatize its provision.

Such a controversial move, however, could lead to a price surge and public demands for more equitable access to vaccination as a necessity to fight the pandemic.

“It means a secondary market emerges for vaccines where wealthy foreign visitors could pay for a vaccination if not eligible to be immunized under their own government’s scheme,” Mukhtar Karim, CEO of the Lady Fatemah Trust said in December, Reuters reported.

Pfizer representatives immediately issued a statement that the company had no plans to supply the private medical providers with the vaccine.

“I can say clearly and confidently that there are no plans to supply the private sector for the foreseeable future - no chance at all,” Ben Osborn, Pfizer UK country manager told the Financial Times in December.

As one example, Mumbai-based Gem Tours & Travel announced a coronavirus vaccine tourism package to the US for ‘high net worth individuals,’ starting at 1,74,999 rupees ($2,300).

It is still unclear whether those who would travel for the COVID-19 vaccine would require quarantine upon arrival and whether the packages would offer both jabs of the vaccine or just one.

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