When an entire squad of Mexican footballers chartered a plane and flew to Dallas, Texas earlier this month, it was not for a conventional away trip.
Some 19 players had taken it upon themselves to head across the border on their day off and sign up for Johnson & Johnson coronavirus vaccine after the state opened up its programme to all over 16s.
The group of young, healthy, professional athletes was not asked about their citizenship or residency and they all returned home to Monterrey that evening after receiving their jabs.
The footballers, along with television presenters, politicians and business leaders from across Latin America have all engaged in ‘vaccine tourism’ – flying to the United States to obtain a vaccine that is not yet available to them at home.
Their actions, often flaunted on social media, have led to a backlash and debate about vaccine inequality.
The problems started last summer when number of wealthy nations pre-ordered enough vaccines to cover their populations several times over, betting big, early.
The UK has ordered 400 million doses from seven manufacturers. The United States has contracts for 1.2 billion doses from six companies.
But in Latin America, few countries planned so far ahead.
“We saw it with countries like Peru and Mexico,” Andrea Taylor, a researcher at Duke University who is studying the vaccine purchase agreements told the New York Times.
“Money wasn’t the problem for them. They have the financing to make the purchases, but they couldn’t get to the front of the line.”
Mexico only signed its agreement with Pfizer in December. Britain had done so five months earlier.
The latest available figures show that the US and the UK were administering around 64 doses per 100 people last week as the rollouts motored on.
In Brazil, it was 16. In Mexico, 11.
Brazil has so far fully vaccinated just 4.3 per cent of its population. Mexico has protected 3.5 per cent.
While the UK has a population roughly half the size of Mexico, it has fully inoculated 16.2 per cent. The United States – with more than twice as many citizens as its southern neighbour – has fully vaccinated 26.7 per cent of people and now stands ready to vaccinate the entire nation.
Brazil’s vaccine programme only started in January.
The health ministry said it has contracts for 365 million vaccine doses, but the majority have not yet arrived and the country continues to suffer from the slow, often disorganised rollout. Some 381,000 people have died and deaths are skyrocketing again, at more than 3,000 a day.
In Peru, fewer than four doses were administered for every 100 people in the last week. Cases are running at more than 8,000 a day.
Only 2 per cent of Peru’s 32 million population have received a dose, but Hernando De Soto, an economist running for president, faced criticism after he admitted travelling to the US to get a jab.
Latin America does have a success story in Chile, where the vaccine programme has been a roaring success after its leadership negotiated and secured deals with Pfizer/BioNTech and China’s Sinovac Biotech early on. Now, a third of the country’s 18 million people is fully vaccinated – one of the highest rates in the world.
But Chile also provides a cautionary tale. The country has been plunged back into lockdown with soaring case rates – spiking at more than 9,000 cases a day earlier this month. Complacency has been blamed.
For those who can afford it, vaccine tourism to the United States is now a serious industry, as America is now allowing anyone over the age of 16 to get vaccinated and has administered more than 200 million doses.
Juan Jose Origel, a Mexican television host, posted a photo of himself receiving the shot in Miami. He was branded a charlatan and a traitor by people back home, where only the over 60s and health workers are currently eligible for the jab.
Argentinian TV personality Yanina Latorre also travelled to Miami for her elderly mother to receive a vaccine and posted a video on Instagram.
She too received a wave of criticism online, and shortly after Florida began requiring proof of residency for those seeking a vaccine.
But around half of US states, including Texas, Arizona, and California, have no such requirement and will accept any official form of identification with a photograph.
The US government is paying for the vaccines and for the cost of giving the shots to anyone who does not have insurance.
Chris Van Deusen, a spokesman for the Texas Department of Health Services, said the vaccine in Texas is “intended for people who live in, work in or spend a significant amount of time in Texas,” and that more than 99 per cent of people vaccinated were state residents.
Virginia Gonzalez and her husband flew from Mexico to Texas and then boarded a bus to a vaccination site. They made the trip again for their second doses, logging 1,400 miles in total.
The couple, from Monterrey, acted on the advice of the doctor treating the husband for prostate cancer.
“It’s a matter of survival,” said Ms Gonzalez.
“In Mexico, officials didn’t buy enough vaccines. It’s like they don’t care about their citizens.”