The United States is one of the small number of countries where coronavirus vaccinations are widely available.
“All over the world people are desperate to get a shot that every American can get at their neighborhood drugstore,” President Joe Biden said on Wednesday.
But one group of Americans feels left behind: expatriates.
“We pay taxes, we vote, why shouldn’t we have a vaccine?” asked Loran Davidson, an American living in Thailand.
So far, the request has been denied. “We have not historically provided private health care for Americans living overseas, so that remains our policy,” White House press secretary Jen Psaki told reporters last month.
Davidson, 76, and her husband moved from New York to Thailand in 2006 after they retired. They live in Pattaya, about 60 miles southeast of Bangkok.
Davidson’s 86-year-old husband is overweight and has high blood pressure, she said, which puts him at increased risk for covid-19 complications, and he is partially disabled after an accident in October. Returning to the United States for a jab would be out of the question.
An estimated 9 million Americans live outside the United States, according to State Department figures. Unlike expatriates from most other countries, they are required to pay U.S. taxes. In recent weeks, a growing chorus has argued that they should therefore be entitled to receive U.S.-approved coronavirus vaccines.
After a rocky start, the State Department finished inoculating embassy staff worldwide in April, a department spokesperson said. So far, the administration has presented those unaffiliated with U.S. embassies with two options: Come home to get the shot, or wait your turn where you are.
But Americans living overseas say it’s not that simple. Vaccines are scarce in many countries. A pregnant woman in Taiwan said she doesn’t feel safe traveling internationally. A disabled veteran in Tunisia can’t afford the trip. Expats in Thailand say that with local quarantine requirements, the round-trip ordeal could take up to six weeks.
“Although some of us have access to vaccines in our host countries, we all agree that the U.S. government should take appropriate steps to ensure that vaccines are available to all of its citizens worldwide,” read an open letter to Biden from leaders of Democrats Abroad, the Democratic Party’s official arm for American expatriates, on Tuesday. Other expat groups have demanded the same.
Two former U.S. ambassadors appointed by President Donald Trump argued in a Wall Street Journal op-ed that the recent spike in cases in the Indo-Pacific region heightened the urgency of the issue.
The campaign has gathered momentum in recent weeks due in large part to expatriates in Thailand, where cases are spiking and less than 4% of some 69 million people are vaccinated.
The Thai government recently announced that foreigners living in the country, beginning with the elderly and those with underlying conditions, will be eligible to book shots when the country begins its mass vaccination program on Monday. Davidson registered with two hospitals – but staff…