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Thai travel agencies offer COVID-19 'vaccine tours' to U.S. - REUTERS

MAY 05, 2021

BY  Panarat Thepgumpanat Chayut Setboonsarng

Travel agencies in Thailand are selling coronavirus "vaccine tours" to the United States, as some wealthy Thais grow impatient awaiting mass inoculations that are still a month away amid the country's biggest outbreak so far.

The tours reflect global differences in vaccinations, with the United States and Britain making swift immunisation gains, but many lower income nations - and increasingly their well-off citizens - are still working to secure doses.

Bangkok tour operator, Unithai Trip, has packages from 75,000 baht to 200,000 baht ($2,400 to $6,400) for trips to San Francisco, Los Angeles and New York, with prices dependent on the time gap between doses.

"Johnson & Johnson (JNJ.N) is one jab, but 90% of inquires want Pfizer (PFE.N)," which needs about 20 days between the first and second doses, the agency's owner, Rachphol Yamsaeng, told Reuters.

He said a group was tentatively scheduled to leave next week.

My Journey Travel is offering a 10-day trip to San Francisco for a Johnson & Johnson shot and said it has received hundreds of calls in three days.

The vaccine tours could be a boon for Thailand's tourism agencies after travel collapsed during the pandemic.

"All tour agencies are suffering now," said Rachapol, whose agency is also offering similar trips to Serbia. "Whatever we can do, we have to try to do it."

A spokesman at the U.S. embassy in Bangkok declined to immediately comment, but the U.S. State Department's website lists medical tourism as a valid reason to visit.

The United States is not the only destination offered to Thais. Another agency, Udachi, advertised a 23-day "VACCation in Russia" to receive the Sputnik V vaccine for up to 210,000 baht ($6,700).

Thailand's main vaccination drive is set to begin in June with locally-produced AstraZeneca (AZN.L) shots.

Its latest outbreak has accounted for more than half of its total 74,900 infections and 318 fatalities.

Thailand's tourism ministry warned on Wednesday that customers should carefully examine vaccination packages after the foreign ministry said U.S. regulations may vary by state.

SEE HOW MUCH YOU GET IF YOU SELL

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