Chinese travelers prepared to go abroad for Western mRNA vaccines

Passengers prepare to enter Shenzhen through the Lok Ma Chau Spur line checkpoint on the first day of the resumption of normal travel between Hong Kong and mainland China in January. 8, 2023 in Hong Kong.

Li Zhihua | China News Service | Getty Images

Mainland China’s move away from its zero-Covid policy has led to a sharp increase in infections and the resumption of travel means some are looking further afield for vaccines.

As of mid-December, China’s total vaccination rate against Covid stood at nearly 87%, an increase of 54%. The main Covid vaccines approved for use in China are from Sinovac and Sinopharm.

Continentals have been flocking to Macau in recent months to seek Western mRNA vaccines, which are widely administered worldwide but are not endorsed by China.

But even if patients tried to book an appointment as early as mid-December, the next available slots at the Macau University of Science and Technology Hospital, the only location that offers shots to tourists, are until February .

Analysts expect the list of vaccine tourism destinations to grow.

‘First natural destination’: Hong Kong

“I think the first natural destination for Chinese vaccine tourism is Hong Kong. Then it will spread to Asia and the US, maybe it will spread to Europe,” Sam Radwan, president of management consultancy Enhance International, told CNBC.

“It’s been a long time since I went to Hong Kong. I can go on vacation, as well as get vaccinated. Won’t that be killing two birds with one stone? Without further ado, I’ve made my appointment and I’m getting ready” . a man from Shaanxi province posted on Chinese social media website Weibo on Friday.

Hong Kong Chief Executive John Lee told a press conference in late December that the city “has achieved a relatively high vaccination rate,” adding that it has “a sufficient amount of medicine to fight Covid “.

But Hong Kong will not provide free Covid vaccines to short-term travelers.

“We want to prevent visitors from coming to Hong Kong to use vaccines at the expense of Hong Kong people, and we will not provide government-purchased vaccines for free to non-Hong Kong residents,” Hong Kong government officials said, and added that visitors must stay a minimum of 30 days to receive a booster shot.

Our recent study suggests that Hong Kong and Thailand can benefit the most from the international tourism channel if China removes visa restrictions and outbound travel is gradually normalized.

Expect to see a wave of mainland residents traveling to Hong Kong to get their shots, said Lam Wingho, a member of Hong Kong’s Scientific Committee on Vaccine-Preventable Diseases, according to a local media report.

Lin said he received a steady stream of inquiries from citizens wanting to know how mainland Chinese relatives could get vaccinated in Hong Kong, he said.

Thailand is another viable destination for vaccine tourists and the country is among the top destinations for Chinese people to travel to, which include Japan, South Korea, the US and Singapore.

Thailand’s Tourism and Sports Minister in late December said he was considering offering free vaccinations for foreign tourists who request booster shots.

And there is interest from the Chinese.

“I didn’t plan to go to Thailand at first, but for the sake of the Pfizer or Moderna vaccine, I’m thinking of going there,” said a Shanghai-based Weibo user after the announcement.

Another Beijing-based Weibo user wrote that the policy would not only “help attract tourists to Thailand” but also provide more variety for inoculation. “For mainland Chinese waiting for more vaccine options, they’ll be able to get the shots they want. Win-win.”

“Going outside of China is definitely a great remedy for the minds of many … I think the Chinese will travel wherever they can get medicine,” said Sam Radwan, president of management consultancy Enhance International.

CFOTO | Future Publishing | Getty Images

“On the side effects of China’s reopening, our recent study suggests that Hong Kong and Thailand can benefit the most from the international tourism channel if China lifts visa restrictions and outbound travel gradually normalizes” , Goldman Sachs wrote in a research note dated December. 27.

“Going outside of China is definitely a great remedy for the minds of many… I think the Chinese will travel wherever they can get the medicine,” said Enhance International’s Radwan.

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