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According to the CA bureau, an estimated 9 million U.S. citizens lived overseas. Late last month, Reuters reported that the U.S. Embassy in Thailand “rejects citizens appeal for vaccines.”
Obviously, the decision to fly vaccines to Thailand as reportedly requested by American expatriates in the country (or to 194 other countries where the United States has diplomatic relations) is not something that each individual embassy can decide on. We don’t think this is something that even the State Department can decide on. This is a decision that has to be made by the current administration. And if/when the Biden administration decides that overseas Americans in one country should be vaccinated, it would also need to consider access to vaccines for overseas Americans living in other countries. There will likely be an equity of treatment issue; the USG will either vaccinate all overseas Americans, or it doesn’t.
WorldAtlas.com notes that about 900,000 Americans live in Mexico, some 800,000 in the European Union, and about 740,000 are in Canada. Approximately 700,000 are in India, with some 600,000 living in the Philippines, and about 185,000 in Israel.
What options are there for overseas Americans?
#1. AmCits fly back the the U.S. to get vaccinated as suggested by Embassy Bangkok. How many of the 9 million overseas Americans will be able to return to the U.S. just to get vaccinated?
#2. Two former political ambassadors to Thailand and New Zealand wrote a WSJ op-ed claiming that “There are no significant hurdles for the U.S. government to ship Covid vaccines around the world and administer them to Americans living abroad. The State Department confirmed on April 20 that it has sent to each U.S. embassy sufficient vaccines to administer to all American employees. Each embassy also maintains a list of Americans who have registered their contact details, and unregistered Americans could easily be reached through the American communities in each country. All that would be required to administer vaccines in an orderly manner to Americans overseas would be to create an online sign-up system.”
Really? Embassies have MED units typically staffed by a handful of medical professionals; a physician and a couple of nurses if you’re lucky. Consulates typically do not have their own health units. How is the Health Unit at the US Embassy in Manila for example supposed to managed the logistics of vaccinating some 600,000 American expats in the Philippines? Should embassies be authorized to provide vaccinations, it would require additional staff to administer the vaccines, handle an online sign-up system, bio-hazard disposals, security, etc. In the meantime, posts are still expected to continue doing the day to day work they’re tasked to do.
#3. Each embassy advocates for equitable access to vaccines for U.S. citizens in host country, as indicated by US Embassy Bangkok. Obviously, host country would resist the perception that it is favoring expats over its own citizens. So how equitable the access to vaccines for overseas Americans would most likely vary from country to country.
#4. The French Embassy in Thailand has organized a two-month vaccination campaign for French nationals from multiple hospitals in the country, providing the single-dose Covid-19 vaccine for free to those who are 55 years old and older. Reuters reported that China has donated one million vaccine doses to Thailand, with 400,000 earmarked for its nationals. This is probably one reason why overseas Americans are upset; the French and the Chinese are providing vaccination to their overseas nationals while the United States has not. The United States plans to donate 80 million vaccines worldwide with 25 million doses soon to be released (7 million going to Asia). The United States has earmarked these doses for priority countries but it cannot allocate 9 million out of that 80 million doses for its overseas citizens?
At a May 11, 2021 Press Briefing, the WH spox was asked:
Q What about Americans overseas? There is bipartisan groups who are pleading with this administration to help them get vaccinated. It’s impractical for them to fly back to the United States. So, are you looking into this? Anything that the administration can do?
MS. PSAKI: Well, we certainly do — and as a veteran of the State Department, I can restate that we are quite focused on the health, safety, wellbeing of Americans living all around the world. We have not historically provided private healthcare for Americans living overseas, so that remains our policy. But I don’t have anything to predict in terms of what may be ahead.
We are in a once in a lifetime pandemic.
We think that the WH needs to reassess this policy. Just because the USG has not historically provided healthcare to overseas Americans doesn’t mean that should remain the policy as it relates to COVID -19 vaccines.
We can all accept the uniqueness of our times. Our collective grief has marked us forever. The US government can do more for our overseas nationals. It should. We have already buried over 600,000 of our citizens due to an incompetent federal response. We should not add more to that toll based on a policy that was set in a world before the coronavirus walked our lands.
— U.S. Embassy Bangkok (@USEmbassyBKK) June 23, 2021
The U.S. embassy in Thailand on Wednesday turned down a direct appeal to fly in coronavirus vaccines for its citizens but said the U.S. government was taking actions to boost vaccine access worldwide. https://t.co/uXzAUGBgSO
— Reuters Health (@Reuters_Health) June 23, 2021