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American expats return to the United States to be vaccinated

(CNN) – Eric Barry has been riding a seemingly endless wave of uncertainty in his life over the past year.

The 35-year-old writer and podcast host, from the Bay Area of ​​California, was looking for a novel in Ecuador when the global pandemic erupted in March 2020.

Over the next 12 months, as Barry attempted to establish his new base in Berlin, where he is studying for a master’s degree, he was faced with challenge after challenge: an apartment that collapsed in the notoriously difficult location of Berlin; try to find a German residence permit probably sent to his old address; and navigate an unfamiliar health system in which he has no idea when he will be vaccinated.

Now Barry has returned to the United States for something he has control over: getting shot at Covid-19 in the near future. Hearing a few weeks ago of an expatriate colleague’s plan to travel to the United States for his own vaccination “sowed a seed,” he says.

“And then on a Facebook group, I started seeing wave after wave of Americans all traveling, and I thought maybe that was something I wanted to do,” Barry says as he waits in a Starbucks before the first of a three-flight flight. , Trip of more than 30 hours to California, where he plans to stay with his already vaccinated mother.

“I never thought that, as I left the United States for Germany, with this promise of a life with a better health system, less than a year later, I would return to the United States. for health care. “

This seems to be a growing sentiment among Americans living abroad – especially those in Europe frustrated with a vaccine rollout that the World Health Organization criticized in a recent report as “unacceptably slow.”

Only 10% of the European population has currently received the first vaccine in a two-dose schedule, and many countries, including Germany and France, are strictly contained.

A poster of the vaccination campaign hangs at Berlin Cathedral in Germany. Some American expats living in Europe have been frustrated by the slow rollout of the vaccine and are returning to the United States for their vaccines.

Maja Hitij / Getty Images Europe

“ We both felt so much relief ”

The scene is quite different across the Atlantic as more US states continue to open up vaccines to all adults over 16, with “I Got the Shot” stickers and vaccine selfies. proliferating on social networks.

The United States continues to set records for the number of daily doses administered, and President Joe Biden has promised that by the end of May – a target that has been put forward two months – the United States will have enough vaccine for any adult who wants one.

Some Americans abroad also want to join in the action.

Spokesmen for the US State Department and US Customs and Border Protection told CNN via email that they do not keep track of data on US citizens living abroad and come back for their vaccines.

But odds are there are more than a few who do just that on half-full flights to the United States, whose borders generally remain closed except to American citizens.

Mindy Chung, her husband and their young son were recently among them. Chung and her husband decided earlier this year to fly from Berlin, where they live, to their home state of California after her doctor in Germany told her she couldn’t get the vaccine. anytime soon, despite his underlying health issues.

“It was a kind of moment, yes we can’t stay,” Chung said.

A few days after landing in California about a week ago, Chung and her husband got a date.

“As soon as we finished the registration process and got our photo, we felt so relieved that we had another layer of protection,” Chung says.

Meanwhile, American expat groups online are buzzing with messages about travel restrictions and border closures and which states are strict about proof of residency. Others share updates from the field as the process unfolds.

A vaccination center at the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin started operating on March 8. Some American expats fly to the United States to get vaccinated faster.

A vaccination center at the former Tempelhof airport in Berlin started operating on March 8. Some American expats fly to the United States to get vaccinated faster.

Michele Tantussi / Getty Images Europe / Getty Images

‘There is no right answer’

Not surprisingly, there can be some negative reactions as well, both online and in real life.

“You sometimes get the feeling that now that you live here, that’s part of the package,” says Austin Langlois, a former digital nomad who moved to Amsterdam for a full-time communications job in the spring of 2020. “That’s it. I feel like I’m kind of, like, it’s a loophole to go to the United States to get the shot, to get it faster. ”

Langlois’ range of eligibility criteria for a shot in the Netherlands extends into the fall, which is “far away,” says Langlois, who is from Michigan.

“My point of view is that there should be no debate on this [vaccine] you get or where you get it. Everyone should get it as soon as they can, where they can, because it will support the collective health of our society. “

That said, although Langlois plans to return to the United States this spring, he has yet to purchase a ticket. He is optimistic that the Netherlands will speed up their vaccination program and want to be “respectful” of current travel advisories. He is also monitoring the still precarious situation in the United States.

“We’re encroaching on a third wave in the US, so you have a bit of that dilemma as well,” Langlois says. “Are you traveling and putting yourself and others at risk to get your vaccination earlier, or are you waiting to get vaccinated here, who knows when? There is no right answer and there is no there is no clear answer. “

People take advantage of the warm weather along the banks of the Seine in Paris on March 31. Hospitalizations are accelerating in the city and the deployment of vaccines has been slow in France.

People take advantage of the warm weather along the banks of the Seine in Paris on March 31. Hospitalizations are accelerating in the city and the deployment of vaccines has been slow in France.

Rafael Yaghobzadeh / Getty Images Europe

‘Take back control’

For American expats with health concerns, the decision takes on another level of complexity. Ali Garland, a Berlin-based travel blogger, says that although she has an autoimmune disease that puts her in a higher priority group, it is not known when her injections will actually occur, and the timing for her husband. could reach 2022.

The risks and hassles of the trip itself – flying with their new puppy, finding short-term accommodation in the United States – are also daunting. So Garland and her husband remain in an anguished “wait and see” mode.

“A big part of the reason I’m considering returning to the United States is control,” Garland told CNN via email. “The past year has felt like a total lack of control over my own life. So I feel like everything has been taken away from me, and considering going to the United States to potentially get vaccinated against months before here would make me feel like I was taking back control … my own hands. “

Eileen Cho, a Paris-based freelance writer and photographer from Seattle, can relate. Cho spent three months with his family in the United States before returning to France in March – and in another lockdown.

Cho has heard alarming reports of other expatriates having their residence permits confiscated at the French border. This makes her reluctant to return to the United States to be vaccinated, only to be barred from returning to France, where she lived for six years and now considers her home.

Still, Cho, who says she has severe asthma, says if things don’t improve around June, she may well jump on a plane to the United States for her vaccine.

“All of my friends have been vaccinated or have a date, and they send me vaccine selfies,” Cho says. “Obviously I’m so happy for them. But because of the way things are going in Europe right now it feels like there is no hope.”


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