Expat in Thailand and can’t get vaccinated?
We decided to leave Thailand for a short period of time and fly to the US to get vaccinated against COVID-19. The day after our flight arrived in San Francisco we went to a Costco pharmacy and got the Johnson and Johnson vaccine. It has been a costly endeavour and, no doubt, raises some questions. A question some people might have is why did we decide to get vaccinated in the US, rather than our home country of Canada?
There are a couple of reasons for this. Because of travel time constraints, the Johnson and Johnson vaccine was the best choice for us, as it is a single dose vaccine. One, and done! While the clinical effectiveness may be lower, we felt the benefits of being vaccinated outweighed the additional costs for us having to stay either in Canada or the US for 21-28 days minimum with the MRNA vaccines.
Also, there is no firm timeframe to get the second dose of any vaccine in Canada at the moment, so that also factors into the decision. Johnson and Johnson, at the time we were deciding, was not available in Canada, and still may not be.
Another part of our decision is that Canada is going through a third wave of COVID, and this one is quite severe. Travel and quarantine restrictions would have added costs and time to a trip there, with the additional risk of exposure to COVID.
We would have had a mandatory quarantine of three days in a hotel in Canada, at considerable cost, in addition to 11 days quarantine elsewhere. After that we could be vaccinated, probably fairly quickly now, but with two-dose vaccines where we are unsure of when a second dose would be available.
The friends we are staying with in the US have all been fully vaccinated with the MRNA vaccines, so we have virtually no risk of catching COVID from them, nor would they be at risk from us.
Fortunately, we were able to get the Johnson and Johnson vaccine the next day after we arrived in San Francisco.
Another question people might have, are we taking the place of Americans who would like to get the vaccine, but haven’t been able to? The answer to that is no. The US, fortunately, has a surplus of vaccines at the moment, and if anyone wants it, they can get it, provided they meet the age and health eligibility requirements.
Another question, and perhaps the more interesting one some may have, are we costing the US by getting vaccinated for free here? The simple answer is yes, but the more complex answer is, not at all. Our visit here is a net benefit to the US, and I will shed some light on that.
First, the direct cost for a dose of J&J vaccine is $10. Second, the dispensing fee paid to pharmacies is $40 for each vaccine dose. That brings the cost to the US to $100 for us to be vaccinated here.
We were quite prepared to pay to be vaccinated as visitors to the US. In fact, we expected it and would have been prepared to pay up to $100 each for this.
Costs of vaccine vs benefits
The reality is that, and this is where it gets more interesting, it requires a more thorough analysis to answer the question of whether we are costing the US to be vaccinated.
On the surface, the direct cost to the US is $100 to vaccinate us. That’s it, but what are the benefits to the US to offer vaccines for free to visitors?
In our case, we booked our flights through an American travel website, and flew with an American airline. The two tickets, round trip, cost us $2,100 Canadian ($1,740 US).
We will each need a COVID test while we are here to be able to fly back to Thailand. Cost for that is approximately $400 US total for both.
For the week and a half we are here we plan to buy some clothing, buy a few grocery items and toiletries we have difficulty finding in Thailand, and possibly a few other things. Hopefully we won’t spend too much!
In addition, we have been dining out in the area and are planning to do more, which has been a direct benefit to the local restaurants. We are happy to help and, I have to say, the food so far in the Salinas and Big Sur area has been top notch! (It is our second time visiting here, and we love the area. California truly is an amazing place to visit! Not just for the food, but for the sights and friendly people.)
The amount we’re spending in the US and with American companies could easily approach $3,000 US for this trip.
It’s easy to fall for the simplistic view that what we’re doing is a cost to the US, and that so-called “vaccine tourism” is bad. Had we been displacing locals, I would agree, but that hasn’t been the case.
We would have preferred to have been vaccinated in Thailand, but the vaccine rollout there has been incredibly slow, and there have been many mixed messages as to when, and if, ex-pats will even be able to be vaccinated there. We also wanted to have a choice of which vaccine we would receive, which would not be guaranteed.
Really, the upside to vaccine tourism, provided locals have the same, timely, and even lower cost access to vaccines, is that this tourism brings back much needed money into the local economy.
If you were to ask anyone in government about whether they would like to see vaccine tourism in their country I have no doubt that they would say yes. They recognize the value of tourism and understand that the benefit far exceeds the cost. Provided their citizens are able to get the vaccine as well, there’s no harm in it.
More costs of leaving Thailand for COVID vaccine
Our decision to get vaccinated in the US has additional costs, but we felt that, overall, it will be of a net benefit to us. We are now fully vaccinated and far better protected against COVID and its variants, and our stress level regarding this is greatly reduced. It has caused us a lot of anxiety since the recent outbreak began in Thailand, with no prospect of it ending soon, numbers decreasing, or being able to get vaccinated there.
In addition to the costs I have mentioned, we had to pay for COVID tests in Thailand, and we will have to pay for our two-week quarantine on arrival in Thailand. It is one of our largest costs, at approximately $2,070 Canadian.
Thailand, up until recently, only required a one-week quarantine for anyone who was fully vaccinated. With the recent outbreak, they moved it back to two weeks. Ridiculous, I know, but what are you going to do?
Crystal will also have her salary reduced while she is away from work, though she will still be working this week, and while she is in quarantine.
We are truly thankful we are able to afford this (barely) right now. We asked ourselves how we would feel if one (or more likely both) of us were to get COVID and, possibly, die from it. How would we have felt about making the decision not to go, just to save the money? It was an easy question to answer for us. That was a price we were not prepared to pay.