Vaccine tourism: Shot seekers from abroad jetting to America for a jab
Team 12 Investigates has discovered that foreign celebrities and even a presidential candidate from Peru have come in search of a vaccine. But it's not just the rich and famous shelling out thousands on 'vaccine vacations' to the U.S.
A New Jersey man says he was so worried about keeping his mother alive, he flew her to the U.S. from Colombia. "Gustavo," of Palisades Park, says she would have been waiting until June or July and that wasn't something he was willing to wait for.
He brought her to a local doctor's office in early March.
Gustavo says he had to pull some strings since New Jersey has a residency requirement.
"I was able to get her vaccinated through somebody...that knows somebody in the doctor's office," he says.
Gustavo says it was worth the risk.
"She's my mom. I will do whatever it takes to protect my mom," he says.
She's now fully vaccinated and will fly back next month.
Gustavo's mother is not the only one.
Many say they want to come to the U.S. because vaccines in their countries are in short supply.
So as the U.S. speeds along with its vaccine access, "vaccine tourism" is increasingly becoming big business - and some companies are hoping to cash in.
Tejas Kapasi, a Mumbai-based travel agent who claims to have coined the term "vaccine vacation," says his company launched a vaccine tourism package to New York just two days before Thanksgiving that quickly went viral.
"The message said, 'Travel to the U.S. and we will give you a small vacation and we'll give you a vaccination.' How many people signed up? More than 5,000 in two days," says the Gem Tours travel agent.
Since Gem Tours couldn't guarantee the shots, the tour also created mass confusion - and left New York's top leaders outraged.
The criticism forced Gem Tours to send out a clarification that the trips would begin only after the Empire State gives the green light.
But the concept is spreading, and now competitors in India and other countries are offering similar packages to destinations across the globe.
News 12's Tara Rosenblum asked the CDC if vaccine tourism is even legal.
It said that U.S. citizenship is not a requirement for vaccination, and the goal was to "ensure that everyone can receive vaccines without barriers." It added that each state can limit supply to their own residents - something 28 states opted to do.
So that leaves 22 states without residency requirements where international travelers can get vaccinated.
Canadian travel insurance broker Martin Firestone says he's received thousands of inquiries this year and explains the reason behind it is the desperate quest for shots.
"Pfizer said after three weeks you get your first you get your second. In Canada, they are extending it as long as four months if that, and people question if the efficacy will hold up," he says.