A travel company in India has offered what it calls "vaccine tourism" to "VVIP" customers to be the "first one to get vaccine". A Whatsapp message from Mumbai-based Gem Tours & Travels that went viral says it will facilitate tours to the US to select VVIP clients as soon as Pfizer's vaccine gets the final approval. "Be among the first to get Corona Vaccine: As soon as Pfizer Vaccine is officially published to sell in America (Tentative date 11th Dec), v r (we are) ready to get it done for select FEW VVIP Clients (sic)," says the message.
The cost of the tour has been fixed at Rs 1,74,999, including airfare for a return flight from Mumbai to New York, stay for three nights and four days, with breakfast and "one vaccine dose". The company says it'll not cover Tax Collected at Source, Goods and Services Tax, VISA, and ground transportation charges. The booking, it says, will be purely based on "first come first serve basis".
The advertisement has created a stir because COVID-19 vaccine is yet to be rolled out for the masses, and the Centre is working on a distribution system once the vaccine is available. To clear the air, the tour company has issued a clarification, but sticking to the idea of vaccine tourism. "We are not taking any money as of now. This opportunity is for people who are co-morbid and in need of the vaccination. This advertisement was misunderstood," Gem Tours and Travel official said.
"Right now no time frame can be committed. We do not collect any advance or deposits. We just need your registration including name, mail, cell, age, anyone of physical complications from above and passport copy," the company said, adding that the rest of things will be done as per health authorities' mandate in the US. He also said the ad was not issued for commercial gains but in public interest.
The travel industry didn't react too well to this ad either. Rajesh Rateria, the owner of Cirrus Travel, expressed surprise over the ad, saying this should not have been floated. "No one knows how many doses one needs to take and how many times they will have to visit the US if there's a gap between shots?" he asked.
Gem Tours & Travels was founded by chairman Jyotin Doshi in 1983. It has offices in Delhi, Gujarat, Chennai, Pune and Bengaluru, and facilitates travels to around 45 countries, according to the company's website. While Prime Minister Narendra Modi is going to discuss the vaccine distribution plan with states/UTs CMs and other representatives today, experts believe common people will have to wait to get the vaccine.
AIIMS Director Dr Randeep Guleria, who is a member of the national task force on coronavirus management, recently said it will take "more than a year" for COVID-19 vaccine to be easily available in the Indian market. In the US too, talks over vaccine distribution are still at a preliminary level. President-elect Joe Biden recently formed a task force that will guide him on dealing with the coronavirus pandemic that has claimed over 236,000 lives in the country alone.
Experts believe frontline workers -- healthcare, police, government officials, medically vulnerable groups (elderly) and individuals with multiple existing conditions -- may be the first ones to receive the doses of the vaccine as and when they'll be ready.