According to data from Armenia’s tourism agency, Iranians experiencing a lack of COVID-19 vaccines at home are flocking to neighboring Armenia as tourists to get immunized for free.
Armenia has licensed three COVID-19 vaccinations: Russia’s Sputnik V, China’s CoronaVac, and AstraZeneca’s vaccine, and has originally made all three vaccines available for free to foreign tourists.
More than 8,500 Iranian citizens visited Armenia in June, up from 5,000 a month earlier, according to the Armenian Tourism Committee.
“We didn’t have any special plans to develop vaccine tourism, it happened accidentally,” said Alfred Kocharyan, deputy head of the Armenian Tourism Committee, adding that people were also coming from India to get free shots.
“But demand for vaccines has created an opportunity for our travel agencies which I encourage them to take.”
Armenian TV reported long queues of Iranians at mobile vaccination units in Yerevan, the capital of Armenia, last week with some Iranian tourists saying they had spent several nights in the street waiting for their turn to get vaccinated.
“There were too many people there, there were too many Iranians, and we still don’t know if we can get a vaccine or not,” said Shirin Darvish, an Iranian tourist who had been waiting to get a shot for ten days.
The buildup of overnight queues prompted the authorities to tighten vaccine rules.
As of July 15, foreigners can only be inoculated in Armenia with the AstraZeneca vaccine and must spend 10 days in the country before becoming eligible.
According to Armenian authorities, at least 260,813 doses of COVID vaccination have been delivered by July 10.
As of July 19, Iran, which has a population of 83 million people, had recorded 87,161 coronavirus deaths, the highest toll in the Middle East.
Around 2.7 percent of Iran’s population has received both doses of an anti-coronavirus vaccination, according to The Islamic Republic News Agency.