An angry President Lenín Moreno blasted pharmaceutical companies Wednesday night for delays in shipments of Covid-19 vaccines to Ecuador. “We have contracts for these doses that were signed months ago. We have made our payments and have the dates we should receive them and yet the vaccine makers are shipping to wealthier countries, in some cases to vaccinate children.”
According to tourism agencies, the vaccine delays are sending tens-of-thousands of Ecuadorians to the U.S. for “vaccine vacations.” Most of the travelers are headed to Miami but others are booking flights to New York. “The tour packages include air fare, hotels and transfer to vaccination stations that accept foreigners,” says Guayaquil travel agent Tito Proaño.
Airport managers in Guayaquil and Quito report that flights to Miami and New York are full and that airlines have added additional flights to accommodate demand. In addition, charter flight to Miami have been arranged from both airports.
In Cuenca, the airport authority reports full flight to Quito and says many of the passengers plan to continue on to Miami.
Although Florida rules require state residency for vaccines, Proaño says that many vaccination locations are not asking for proof. “They have more doses than they need so they only ask for insurance cards, which we provide,” he said. Although most vacation packages are for Miami and Orlando, he says that some are booked for other cities, such as Tampa and Tallahassee.
Besides delivery delays in Ecuador, Proaño says many of those headed to the U.S. don’t want the Chinese Sinovac or Russian Sputnik vaccine, which are being administered in the country. “They think those being given in the U.S. are better and prefer to travel to get them.”
According to Quito travel agent Lisa Iglesias, most of those booking flights prefer the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, since it is a single dose. “The Pfizer and Moderna shots are for two doses so travelers have to be in the U.S. for two-and-a-half weeks.”
According to Iglesias, more than 30,000 Ecuadorians have already traveled or booked trips to the U.S. for vaccines. “Based on demand, we expect about that many more to travel in May and June.”
In his Wednesday comments, Moreno called on the World Health Organization and governments in Europe and North America to release more vaccines since most of the populations in those regions have already been vaccinated. “We hear there is an over-supply in many wealthy countries and those should be rerouted immediately to countries that need them, like Ecuador,” he said.