Over the past few months, the world’s 1%, have voyaged to the United Arab Emirates, where local officials have helped some of the world’s wealthiest individuals secure access to coronavirus vaccines long before they were supposed to receive their jab in their respective home countries.
Ben Goldsmith, a British financier, as well as executives at SoftBank, include just some of the people who have received the vaccine in the UAE. It is reported that members of the ruling family and officials in the UAE have used the country’s vast vaccine supply to help their overseas friends.
The Financial Times reported that Goldsmith, who is an advisor for the government in Westminster, claimed that he had travelled to the United Arab Emirates prior to Boris Johnson’s announcement of tighter lockdown measures in December 2020, and had decided to stay in the Middle East rather than return home.
Mr Goldsmith and his wife, upon invitation from a member of the royal family in the UAE, received the Pfizer/BioNtech vaccine. Mr Goldsmith informed the Financial times that:
“It was never our intention to get vaccinated, but when the opportunity presented itself, we gratefully took it,” he told the Financial Times. “The UAE is vaccinating anyone who asks for it — we just happened to be in the right place at the right time.”
Vaccinating 6 million of the county’s 10 million people, the UAE has one of the world’s fastest inoculation rates. The UAE helped with the Chinese Sinopharm vaccine trials, and it is now reported that the Arab nation intends to manufacture the vaccine.
According to the Financial Times, the UAE has set its eyes on creating a formal vaccine tourism industry in the near future. However, for the time being, these excess jabs are being administered to those well-connected to officials in the UAE. Only senior officials and royals can secure vaccinations for these non-residents. This is known locally as ‘vaccine wasta’, or the use of influence to get jabs.
It was reported that SoftBank executives broke UK travel restrictions in January to fly from London to the UAE. One such executive of this restriction-flouting party includes Rajeev Misra, who runs the Vision Fund in SoftBank. As non-residents, they would have relied on government approval or connections to gain access to the vaccine.
These wealthy vaccine tourists tend to arrive on private jets and have stayed at upmarket Dubai beach hotels, such as the Mandarin Oriental, the Four Seasons Jumeirah, and the Bulgari resort according to the Financial Times.
Such wealthy vaccine tourists are not limited to executives based in London; it has also been revealed that there has been an influx of Indian, Pakistani and Lebanese residents wishing to be inoculated in the UAE. Some wealthy foreigners have gone as far as legally registering offshore companies in the UAE so as to obtain vaccines in the country.
In addition to rubbing shoulders with the elite in the United Arab Emirates, some locals have encouraged their families to visit for three weeks in order to receive two vaccine doses to become fully inoculated. Family members from outside the UAE are not officially eligible for vaccination, and some influence is required. For those who could not receive a vaccine through official channels, some were attracted to a grey market of private inoculation which has since ceased according to UAE officials.
The UAE is not the only country which has attracted wealthy vaccine tourists. Bloomberg reported that Russia is another destination for travel to receive the vaccination. Russia is currently rolling out its own Sputnik V vaccine. One notable individual who has travelled to Russia to obtain the vaccine is U.S. film director Oliver Stone, who won an Academy Award as a writer for Midnight Express, and received his coronavirus shot back in early December.
The vaccination of the world’s wealthiest individuals flies in the face of countries in the global south who cannot afford to buy vaccinations for their citizens, and have relied on wealthier European countries donating a portion of their vaccines to these economically poorer nations. The World Health Organisation had warned very early on that “vaccine nationalism”, like the row between the UK and the EU, was a very real threat to global immunity from Covid-19. The phenomenon of countries inoculating individuals who can afford it over those who cannot, further adds to this concern.
It is likely that vaccine tourism will continue to grow as an industry, especially for countries who rely on seasonal tourism and cannot afford to lose yet another season this summer. With concerns over vaccine supply from distributors like AstraZeneca, the hopes of a ‘normal’ summer this year are beginning to fade. Despite this, some European countries including Greece are preparing to open in time for summer on the condition that tourists have had the vaccine, have antibodies, have had a negative PCR test, and quarantine for a mandatory period of two weeks.