In Search of a Vaccine, Some Tourists Find Luck in the Caribbean

Roughly 3 percent of vaccines in the U.S. Virgin Islands have gone to tourists, the governor said this week. “Nowhere else in the U.S. can you actually just walk in and get the vaccine,” he said.

By Melinda Wenner Moyer

When Lydia Todman booked a trip to St. Croix with her husband earlier this month, she was hoping only for a relaxing getaway. But when she arrived, she learned she could also get the Covid-19 vaccine.

Ms. Todman, 43, said that local residents she knew on the island encouraged her to book a vaccine appointment. At the time, she and her husband, who is 54 and has asthma, were not eligible for a shot in their home state, Georgia. But in St. Croix, every adult is eligible. So she visited the territory’s Department of Health website, saw they had appointments available for the next day, and signed up.

“We were in and out within a matter of a few minutes,” Ms. Todman said. “It was amazing.”

Nearly 106,000 people call the U.S. Virgin Islands home, and the territory has administered more than 33,000 Covid-19 vaccines to date, with about 10,600 people now fully protected with two doses. At a news briefing on Monday, the governor, Albert Bryan Jr., estimated that at most 3 percent, or approximately 1,000 of those vaccines, have gone to tourists.

“Have we become aware of the fact that people are seeking us out? Yes. And you know, we accommodate everyone,” said Angela East, the coordinator and director of the Covid-19 vaccine program at Plessen Healthcare, which has administered 44 percent of all Covid-19 vaccines in the territory. “We are going to give you the shot in the spirit of putting as many shots in arms as possible.”

Health authorities and ethicists don’t see a big problem with the vaccine tourism in the U.S. Virgin Islands, given the ample supply of the shots and high levels of vaccine hesitancy among residents there. And the trend may wane as more U.S. states open up their eligibility criteria. Still, wealthy Americans traveling to the Caribbean to secure Covid-19 vaccines is an example of the many ways in which vaccine access across the world is shaped by race, circumstance and privilege.

In St. Croix, St. John and St. Thomas, the three largest of the U.S. Virgin Islands, vaccines are readily available to tourists partly because of vaccine hesitancy, “which is very high in the Virgin Islands,” said Dr. Tai Hunte-Ceasar, the medical director of the territory’s Department of Health. This hesitancy seems most pronounced among residents of color, Mr. Bryan said at the news briefing. “Caucasians that live in the Virgin Islands are more apt to take the vaccine and take it quicker,” he said.

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