Sputnik V vacations and peak vaccine diplomacy on Mount Everest

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Vaccine tourism is becoming a reality, with Russia emerging as a top destination. Tour operators in Norway, Turkey and Moldova are already advertising trips. At least 700 people have signed up with the German agency World Visitor and the first influx from the country is expected in Moscow next week. Viking Tourism, a travel company in Turkey told Coda Story that the idea is generating plenty of interest. The firm, which is waiting for the green light from the Turkish government, will be offering customers a €1,500 package, which will include two return flights, a five-star hotel, sightseeing and two Sputnik V shots. 

Having given 60% of its adult population a first Covid-19 shot, Israel is getting ready to vaccinate teenagers. The government plans to buy 36 million more vaccines as an “insurance policy,” to help achieve herd immunity and fight future variants. Palestine, on the other hand, is lagging far behind in its immunization drive, with Gaza experiencing its biggest Covid-19 surge in months. Hospitals are under severe strain as more than 1,000 cases were recorded on Wednesday. 

Tajikistan’s now former health minister Samariddin Alizoda has had a rough week. He was sacked after a disastrous press conference, during which he first forgot the names of representatives of the World Health Organization and UNICEF, and then confused North and South Korea. This video shows him explaining to a room of reporters that the “AstraZeneca vaccine is currently being produced in Belgium, India and North Korea.” Someone in the room corrects him that it is South Korea. “South Korea, North Korea, what’s the difference,” he responds, as the room erupts in laughter.

Endurance, perseverance, money and AstraZeneca shots — that’s what it takes to climb Mount Everest during the pandemic. Nepal issued its first climbing permits in a year, and the payment for them appears to have included a donation of vaccines. The licenses, which usually cost around $10,000 per head, went to a Bahraini prince and his 16-person entourage, who arrived with a special gift: a batch of 2,000 AstraZeneca vaccines. The Kathmandu Post spoke to an anonymous official who said, “1,000 doses of vaccine were requested by the Nepali embassy itself and another 1,000 doses were given by Bahrain on their own.” But health authorities in Nepal say they knew nothing about it and are now investigating how the vaccines were brought into the country without prior approval. 

Russia claims to have developed the first Covid-19 shot for animals. On Wednesday, the state veterinary service announced that it has already carried out clinical trials on arctic foxes, cats, dogs, minks and other animals, and that mass production of the Carnivak-Cov vaccine could begin in April. While the immunization can reduce animal-to-human transmission, it will also revive the fur farming industry. Bad news for our furry friends.

THE HIDDEN DANGERS OF VACCINE PASSPORTS

by Caitlin Thompson

You’ve probably seen the headlines. The conversation over Covid-19 vaccine passports is heating up. New York just rolled out the first one in the U.S. The European Commission recently announced its own proposal, with hopes of launching the program in time for the summer tourist season — which is now looking unlikely, as most countries head into a third wave.

The EU’s plan leaves a lot up to member states. So, we could end up with countries using vaccine passports in different ways. Some governments may focus on international travel. China already started requiring registration for people entering and exiting its borders. Other nations may follow Israel’s example and use them domestically to grant people access to restaurants and other venues. Saudi Arabia has a similar system. 

Many of us won’t think twice about handing over proof of vaccination, especially if it means we can board an airplane or go out for dinner again. But not everyone approves. The World Health Organization does not support vaccine passports because it is unclear whether vaccinations actually stop the transmission of Covid-19. 

Then come the issues of privacy and equal access. Most of the world has not been vaccinated yet and won’t be any time soon. Meanwhile, some experts believe that such systems could alter the way we live for years to come. 

Who will be left out? 

A certificate that shows you have been vaccinated only works if you can prove it belongs to you and not someone else.


To do that, you need identification. For many of us, that won’t be a problem. But living without ID is more common than you might think. According to the World Bank, 1.1 billion people around the world do not have any form of official identification. Melinda Mills, director of the Center for Demographic Studies at the University of Oxford, says that will exacerbate already existing inequalities.

If digital vaccine passports require smartphones, which most do, those who do not have them form a whole other group that could end up being excluded. Plus, some individuals who do have access to such technology may not want to share sensitive data with authorities. 

A big consideration surrounding vaccine passports is whether they cut people off from the economy and basic services, creating a kind two-tiered society. The vaccinated vs. the unvaccinated. 

“The real danger would be, and I can imagine it going in this direction, that vaccines aren’t made mandatory, that vaccine passports and certificates are not mandatory, but that you need them everywhere you go — that you need them to get a job, to get into a shop,” said Mills. 

WHAT WE ARE READING:

Coda’s senior reporter Erica Hellerstein recommends this Scientific American piece on Manaus, a Brazilian city in the Amazon that has been devastated by Covid-19 and offers a cautionary example to  the rest of the world about maintaining basic public restrictions even as vaccination campaigns progress. It also underlines why only a global approach to immunization will work. 

That’s it from us for today. Well, almost. As ever, it takes a village — in our case a team — to put together this newsletter. Coda’s Masho Lomashvili, Sophiko Vasadze, Mariia Pankova and Isobel Cockerell all contributed to this one.  

Got questions? Suggestions? Story tips?  Hit reply any time. We love hearing from you. And please do consider joining our membership program!

See you next Friday.

Natalia Antelava 

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