Over the weekend, I read an article by my friend Andrew from Flytrippers about travelling from Canada to the United States to get the COVID-19 vaccine. I was pleasantly surprised by how straightforward Andrew’s experience was.
For many Canadians who are anxiously awaiting their first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine and then facing a long wait before the second does, it seems that all you need is a spare weekend, a tolerance for the 14-day quarantine upon returning to Canada, and a handful of airline and hotel points to solve the vaccination problem many months ahead of schedule.
In this article, I wanted to explore some of the key considerations around travelling internationally to get the COVID-19 vaccine now that it’s a tangible possibility for Canadians.
Why Travel Internationally to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Canada’s sluggish vaccine rollout efforts have been well-documented in recent months.
Even though we’re smaller than many of our peers on the global stage like the US and the UK, the prevailing sense is that our government could’ve done much more to procure vaccines in the early months of 2021, rather than wasting resources on, say, poorly thought out and even more poorly executed hotel quarantine measures.
At the same time, some countries around the world now have an oversupply of vaccines, most notably our neighbours to the south.
Many US states are indicating that the supply of vaccines is outstripping the demand, and as a result, some states are explicitly allowing non-residents and non-citizens to receive the COVID-19 vaccine. After all, the best protection from the virus is achieved by vaccinating as many individuals in the area as possible.
As a result, Canadians who are facing a longer wait to receive the vaccine domestically might be tempted to make a trip across the border and get it over with.
After all, on an individual level, the risk of contracting the virus from the mere act of travelling remains relatively low, as long as you commit to wearing a mask, socially distancing, and completing the 14-day quarantine when you return to Canada.
For Canadians who are able to complete the 14-day quarantine upon return and can deal with a handful of logistical challenges along the journey, the question is simple. If you could travel to the US to get the vaccine, protect yourself from the surging variants in Canada, and enjoy a quicker return to normalcy in terms of both travel and daily life – why not?
Should You Travel to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
From an ethical standpoint, I don’t see any issues with travelling internationally to get the COVID-19 vaccine, as long as your chosen destination is explicitly offering vaccines to anyone and everyone in the area, including non-residents.
Not every US state fits this bill: some have yet to fully open up vaccines to all individuals aged 16+, while others do have a residency criterion with the intention of prioritizing vaccines for in-state residents.
In either of these cases, by strolling up for a COVID-19 vaccine as a non-resident, you’d be taking the place of someone else in line who’s more entitled to that shot than you are.
On the other hand, as of late March, a few US states like Arizona, Louisiana, and Texas have explicitly opened up their vaccination efforts to anyone over the age of 16, and have explicitly clarified that there is no residency requirement:
- Arizona Department of Health Services Director: “Out-of-state residents, even folks from out of the country, who are in Arizona can get the vaccine here”
- Louisiana Department of Health: “Everyone in Louisiana ages 16 and older is eligible to get vaccinated against COVID-19.”
- Texas Department of Health: “There is no residency or citizenship requirement to receive a COVID-19 vaccine, and a social security number is not required.”
For Canadians headed to these states to receive a COVID-19 vaccine under full eligibility, I see no ethical concerns.
Do You Need to Travel to Get the COVID-19 Vaccine?
Just because you can, doesn’t mean you should. And just because you arguably should, doesn’t meant you absolutely must.
While our own vaccination efforts in Canada endured a slow start, by all accounts they’re ramping up quickly, and we’re doing quite well on a per-capita basis compared to many of our G20 peers (outside the much bigger US and UK).
There’s a good chance many of us will be able to get our shots sooner than we had initially anticipated, especially with the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine being scheduled for rollout at the end of April too.
With a little bit more patience and a few more months of commitment to fight off the potent virus variants, I do believe most Canadians will be vaccinated in time to enjoy a fairly normal summer, getting to safely enjoy the company of their friends and loved ones once everyone’s had their shots.
Now, given the miserable year that we’ve already endured, the rapid and enviable pace of vaccinations south of the border, as well as the very real concern of some of the virus variants for which Canada has become something of a hotspot, I don’t doubt that some Canadians will find the prospect of waiting eight more weeks for their first vaccine dose to be eight weeks too many.
If that describes you, then you very much have the option to hop across the border for a single-shot J&J, rest for two weeks at home, and enjoy some semblance of normalcy and greater peace of mind.
Ultimately, though, I imagine most Canadians wouldn’t find the need to embark on a vaccine trip, given the burdensome 14-day quarantine upon return (with an expensive hotel stay if you’re flying back) and the impending upturn in the situation here at home anyway.
Considerations for Travelling to the US for the COVID-19 Vaccine
If you do decide to partake in vaccine tourism, you should make sure to plan for the usual wrinkles associated with crossing international borders in the pandemic era.
While the land border between Canada and the US has been closed since March 2020, there have been no restrictions on air travel from Canada to the US. Just like any regular trip, a simple round-trip flight (whether booked with points or cash) to a US state with an open-to-all vaccination policy would do the trick.
However, flying back into Canada would entail an expensive three-night hotel quarantine stay, which might put a damper on your excitement of getting the vaccine.
Therefore, it may be a good idea to book a one-way flight from your Canadian point of origin to your chosen US destination, and then another one-way flight to a US border city so that you can cross the land border back into Canada.
You’d just need to pick up a (most likely free) COVID-19 PCR test at a local pharmacy, before crossing the border with a one-way car rental, a limousine service, or a series of Uber or pre-arranged car rides on both sides of the border.
You’d then head directly home for your 14-day quarantine, without having to fork over a small fortune for a three-night quarantine hotel.
Now, in terms of actually making an appointment for your COVID-19 vaccine in the US, by all accounts it appears to be a very smooth and straightforward process.
The Vaccine Spotter project does an excellent job of sourcing local vaccine appointments.
Simply pick your desired state, filter for the single-does Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and you’ll be presented with a list of available appointments over the upcoming week and a link to make your booking.
After that, based on Andrew’s experience, it’s just about showing up, receiving a simple jab, and walking away with that prized vaccination card that is sure to play such a critical role in our lives going forward.
Several US states are now openly offering the Pfizer, Moderna, and Johnson & Johnson vaccines to anyone individual within state borders, regardless of age, residency, or citizenship.
This opens the door to Canadians who would like to receive the vaccine sooner than they might be eligible to do so here at home; however, ultimately I think most Canadians would be best-served with some extra patience rather than going through all the trouble.
Still, reading Andrew’s account of his experience, I found it hard to wrap my head around the concept that a simple weekend trip south of the border could spell the end of the nightmare.
Personally, I’ll soon be taking a trip to China to visit my family, so I’ll likely get my shot when I’m there. But if I didn’t already have travel plans, I think I’d be very tempted to pop down to one of the southern states, get my single dose, and return home with the additional peace of mind and the greater flexibility to plan upcoming trips.
Whether you decide to travel for the vaccine or wait your turn here in Canada, we’ll all be able to draw a line under this sad chapter of our lives very soon, and that’s something we can all look forward to.