Vaccine tourism: International travelers are rushing to SFO for free COVID vaccines

Luz Pena Image
Sunday, August 8, 2021
SFO becomes vaccine tourism hot spot for international visitors
SFO's vaccination clinic has become a tourism destination where hundreds are landing to get vaccinated.

SOUTH SAN FRANCISCO, Calif. (KGO) -- Forget about the Golden Gate Bridge and Fisherman's Wharf, SFO's vaccination clinic has become a tourism destination where hundreds are landing and getting vaccinated.

"It's hard to get a vaccine in the Philippines so it's easier to just come here and you are hitting two birds at a time. You are getting around as a tourist and at the same time you are getting vaccinated. It's easy," said tourist, Roqzanne Tan.

Roqzanne Tan couldn't get vaccinated in her home country so she traveled over 15 hours to land in San Francisco. She walked into a CVS and got vaccinated. Another popular option is the SFO vaccine clinic where tourists are getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, Monday through Friday.

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"As we look at the appointments that are being made at our medical clinic where we give out the vaccine, 80% of the new appointments are actually non U.S. citizens. So, a very interesting trend," said SFO Spokesperson, Doug Yakel.

Since May SFO has given over 1,000 vaccines to tourists from 58 countries. They say the majority are coming from Taiwan and Mexico.

"Because in Mexico there is no plan. In Mexico they are very slow, they work slow," said Mexican tourist, Israel Gomez.

As the Delta variant spreads across the globe, SFO has now turned into an unexpected vaccination hub. In the last month they began tailoring their website for some of the top markets to incentive travel.

"Number one it allows these Johnson & Johnson doses to go to good use. It allows them to not go to waste," said Yakel.

Travel agent Edward Siu has gotten multiple calls inquiring about travel incentive and says the price tag is high but worth it as COVID cases are spiking in many of these countries.

"It's costing them only about $4,000 - $5,000 that is the most," said Siu with Classics Tours.

SFO is hoping accessible vaccines will also help boost the economy, but Siu says one dose is not enough time.

"It's not because honestly only the hotels take some advantage, the airlines take some advantage on it but besides that people are not taking the tours because they take the vaccine and they go," said Siu.

But the word is spreading fast.

Luz Pena: "Do you know anybody else who that is doing this?"

Roqzanne Tan: "Yeah, my friend went here with me to get a vaccine as well but she went back to the Philippines."

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