Potsdam sees ‘medical tourism’ as people drive hundreds of miles to get COVID vaccine

Updated: Mar. 16, 2021 at 4:00 PM EDT
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POTSDAM, N.Y. (WWNY) - People are driving hundreds of miles to Potsdam for vaccine. It’s filling hotel rooms and even increasing foot traffic at local attractions.

How far would you drive for a COVID-19 vaccination? David Mercado drove more than 360 miles. He’s a healthcare worker who lives in New York City.

“If that means having this vaccine is quicker for us to just stop wearing these masks and just hang out with our friends and go back to normal, I’m down for it,” he said.

Dave Fenton also came to the state’s mass vaccination site at SUNY Potsdam. He came from Saratoga County. It was about a 200-mile drive one-way.

“And then I got to return and then I got to come back up again,” he said.

Why drive so far? It’s because appointments at SUNY Potsdam are sometimes available the next day. Less than two weeks out, there are hundreds available. Most of the state’s mass vaccination sites are not even taking appointments. It’s giving rise to something unexpected.

“There have been quite a few hotel reservations from this. And typically when they leave, they are booking for their three weeks out,” said Brooke Rouse, St. Lawrence County Chamber tourism director.

Ogdensburg’s Frederic Remington Museum is even getting visitors out of it. There’s a way to describe it.

“This is considered health tourism, or medical tourism,” said Rouse.

The chamber is now talking with hotels and destinations about how to get those visitors back.

The state health department says it’s administering 500 first doses and 500 second ones per day at SUNY Potsdam and it expects to do more as more vaccine become available.

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