Like most Americans, Reuben Sushman is eligible to get his COVID-19 vaccine shot. But he's living in Thailand, where only 1% of the population has so far been vaccinated, so there's no telling when he will be able to get his shot.
After weighing all his options, he flew to Guam in mid-April not only to get a U.S. Food and Drug Administration-authorized COVID-19 vaccine, but also to get a vacation.
As a businessman, he's able to continue working remotely from his hotel room during the 14-day quarantine, so no time was wasted, he said.
In Thailand, he said, he's had difficulty getting a vaccine and had to rely on a vaccine brand that the host country provides.
"It's all worth it," Sushman said, of going the extra mile to travel to Guam to get vaccinated.
Going to Guam, which only has a three-hour difference from Thailand, made the most sense after weighing that against at least a 16-hour flight to go back to the states, cross several time zones, and get jet-lagged.
Many of his fellow Americans in Thailand and other places knew Guam only to be the host of U.S. military presence, but not a tropical vacation destination, he said.
Sushman, founder and chief executive officer at Victory Cloud Computing Services Ltd., was pleasantly surprised about the beauty of Guam, and thinks that Guam should pursue "vaccine tourism."
"They should pursue it. Get the PR out there. They should do something to promote it, like 'come back to the U.S. for your vaccination at the beautiful beaches of Guam, relax, enjoy," he said. "There's nothing that stops you from coming here."
Sushman reached out to The Guam Daily Post after it ran a story about the Guam Visitors Bureau weighing the possibility of marketing the island as a "vaccination destination" among American expats in Japan, Korea, the Philippines and other Asia-Pacific countries.
Guam's main tourism markets are still struggling with vaccination and new COVID-19 cases while GVB is looking to invigorate tourism more than a year after the pandemic hit.
"I think a lot of U.S. citizens in this region don't know about Guam. It's all about mindset and Guam needs to promote it, saying 'come back to the U.S.," Sushman said. "The point is, I think Guam can easily promote it."
On the day he was released from hotel quarantine, he checked in at another hotel in Tumon and got his first dose of the Pfizer vaccine at the University of Guam Calvo Field House COVID-19 vaccination clinic.
"I recognize that it’s the federal government that’s distributing the vaccine. So it really doesn't make a difference what state or territory I go to, as long as I have a U.S. passport," he said.
Guam has one of the highest full vaccination rates on American soil. It has ample supply of FDA-approved COVID-19 vaccines: the two-dose Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech, and the single-dose Johnson & Johnson Janssen vaccine.
Sushman also secured an appointment to get his second dose, and will be moving to another hotel with better and more open amenities that include helping him with diving and other tourist needs.
He said he personally knows people who died because of COVID-19 and whose whole family got the virus, and if getting himself better protection means traveling thousands of miles away, then so be it.
"My health comes first," he said. "I said I'm gonna come here, enjoy myself at the beach, but I wish more things are open and more things open at night."
On his social media, he posted, "Should have come here years ago. Where else can one go to IHOP, Ruby Tuesday's and Denny's all in the same day in (Asia-Pacific). Looking forward to my first vaccination and diving along with SUP soon."
He said he's been sharing his experience and thoughts about vacationing and getting vaccinated on Guam with his fellow expats.
Governor: Worth looking into seriously
Gov. Lou Leon Guerrero, during a Friday press conference delaying Guam's tourism reopening, said vaccine tourism has been under discussion and she thinks it's something "worth looking into seriously."
The governor said she will be making a call with Army Gen. Gustave F. Perna, who heads federal government's Operation Warp Speed, to see whether he can give Guam additional COVID-19 supplies for this population of American expats in the region.
"I am very concerned about impacting our supply for our own residents and our own people but if we can get extra supply or added supply for our volume of vaccination, I think that would be great idea to pursue," the governor said.
Sushman said if he could only meet with the governor or other GovGuam officials before he leaves to share his thoughts on how vaccine tourism can be promoted, then that would be great.
GVB officials have not made a final decision whether to pursue it, but they said the bureau has been getting inquiries from American expats and American Chambers of Commerce from the Asia-Pacific region about it.
Sushman said the airfare to Guam is costlier via Tokyo rather than transitting through Manila, but he said it's a small price to pay for one's health and safety.
From Guam, Sushman said he will go on a business trip to Dubai. That may be before he's considered fully vaccinated, which is two weeks after getting his second dose, but he said it's much better than not having any added layer of protection at all.
Overall, Sushman's Guam vaccination and vacation rolled into one is about five weeks, much longer than Guam's typical visitors that stay here mostly for less than a week.
Sushman said he also likes the warm hospitality of the people on the island. On Sunday, he got lost finding his way back to Tumon after visiting Micronesia Mall. Two local residents, he said, saw him and offered to give him a ride back to his hotel.
"To the persons who drove me back to Tumon, thank you."