“It’s a grim situation”: The foreigners going to their native states for vaccination

Some foreigners who are long-term residents of the Czech Republic are opting to travel to their own countries, at considerable cost, to get coronavirus jabs. Frustration with the sluggish pace of vaccinations here is a major reason, though issues surrounding health insurance are also a factor.

“At the beginning of the year I thought, Oh good, it looks good – maybe even February or March.”

Jeffrey Martin was initially optimistic about when he would get vaccinated against the coronavirus.

But the Czech Republic’s slow rollout of vaccines caused the American – who has been living here since the 1990s and has a Czech family and regular Czech public health insurance – to reconsider his options.

“It looked like it would many months, maybe the end of the year, before I would be eligible to get a vaccine here.

Jeffrey Martin | Photo: Juan Pablo Bertazza,  Radio Prague International

“Everyone in my family had already gotten Covid and I somehow didn’t, or at least I’ve tested negative.

“I still find the whole virus quite worrisome – and I would really prefer not to get it.”

At the start of April Martin travelled to Arizona where he received the Johnson & Johnson vaccine, and got to see his father for the first time in two years.

Jean Garner has been based in Prague for the last half decade. She too got a J&J jab in her native US.

“I looked at the situation here in the Czech Republic and I realised that it was going to be many, many months before I was going to be considered eligible for the vaccine.

“So I thought the best step for me was to be proactive and go some place where I felt it was possible to get a vaccine. And for me that was the United States and my former residence in Virginia.”

Garner points out that it is not just the Czech Republic – many other EU states have been equally slow to vaccinate their populations.

She also appreciates that not everybody in her position can do what she did.

“In some ways it is a luxury to be able to afford to do that. Because it’s not just about getting on an aeroplane or getting on a train or getting on a bus or even driving some place.

“You have to get a test before you travel. There are expenses involved.

“And depending on where you’re travelling and what you face when you get there, it can be a very expensive proposition."

One reason Garner was pessimistic about getting vaccinated in Prague is that she doesn’t have regular Czech public health insurance.

This is because she works for an international organisation that provides its staff with private insurance – placing her in a category of people currently ineligible for vaccination.

Photo: Fernando Zhiminaicela,  Pixabay,  CC0

Pete Baumgartner got his first shot of the Moderna vaccine in Colorado. He has a serious health condition and when we spoke was hoping – after contact with his doctors here – to be able to get the second one in the Czech Republic.

But Baumgartner too has private health insurance, which could complicate access to a procedure that he points out does not cost a great deal of money.

“If medical officials have decided that I should have some kind of priority – I’ve been living here since 1994 – then it shouldn’t really matter how it’s paid for, right?

“In fact, you’d think it’d be better for them if somebody else paid for it beside the Czech insurance company or whatever.”

Getting vaccinated on a brief visit is evidently not difficult in some parts of the United States. However, that is not the case elsewhere, and Baumgartner says such an option is not open to, for instance, some UK citizens resident in the Czech Republic.

“I know lots of Brits that can’t go back to Britain, just because they have been over here so long and they have no means of getting a jab.

“They’re kind of in a horrible situation where they need to get one and they can’t.

“Who knows how long it’s going to take here? It’s 6 percent now after three months; project that forward and in October we’re still at 18 percent of the population being vaccinated here – that’s pretty poor.

“I understand that their hands are somewhat tied in the supply of vaccines, but it’s a pretty grim situation.”

Note: Vaccinations began in the Czech Republic at the very end of December. As of Monday 8.2 percent of the population was fully vaccinated, according to ourworldindata.org.