Tourists from Mexico visiting Lubbock for COVID-19 vaccine

Updated: Mar. 23, 2021 at 10:24 PM CDT
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LUBBOCK, Texas (KCBD) - The KCBD Investigates team is shining a light on medical tourism; people flying to the United States from other countries in order to get vaccinated against COVID-19, a practice that’s bringing visitors right here to Lubbock.

Reports of citizens frustrated by the idea of foreign nationals crossing the border for COVID-19 vaccinations prompted Governor Abbott to say that Texas vaccines are for Texans only back in January.

But our team received a tip from someone passing through a privately-owned facility at Lubbock International Airport that proves tourists are coming to get vaccinated right here in Lubbock.

That tip sent our team undercover, to see who exactly is flying into the Hub City in hopes of obtaining the same thing all of us want; immunity from COVID-19.

Our story culminated in a brief conversation outside of a CVS pharmacy, but it started when our team staked out the only FBO at Lubbock International Airport. An FBO is a Fixed Base Operator, essentially a small aircraft service station. That’s where our team first encountered a group of medical tourists stepping off a Cessna Citation III Business Jet, on a chartered flight that originated in Del Norte, Mexico, before making an overnight stay in San Antonio and ultimately flying to Lubbock.

Our team followed the group of seven people as they made their way down I-27 in two vehicles, exiting at Avenue Q, traveling down to Broadway where they turned right and then expertly negotiated the back route to the neighborhood CVS Pharmacy across the street from Texas Tech University.

We followed them inside, and found them in line checking in for their COVID-19 vaccines; an appointment that CVS told us is required to be scheduled in advance.

After about an hour inside, the tourists emerged, and we were able to catch up with them for a brief interview. We weren’t able to get any details, but they did admit they were visiting from outside the United States.

K: “We saw you in line and we were wondering if you’d be willing to talk to us?”

FN: “Sorry, I don’t speak English.”

K: “I think you do. I think you do speak English. Where are y’all from?”

FN: “Mexico.”

K: “Where in Mexico?”

Our final question was never answered, as the group got in the vehicle and drove away.

The KCBD Investigates team attempted to charter that exact flight in a similar aircraft; Del Norte to San Antonio, San Antonio to Lubbock and then Lubbock back to Del Norte and we found that charter would cost us somewhere between $30,000 and $40,000.

Our team also found that patient privacy laws, and the mission to vaccinate everyone as soon as possible, worked together to leave the system open for this medical tourism loophole.

As we watched our new friends from south of the border take off and head for home in their Cessna Citation, we noted the total time spent in Lubbock was about two hours, which left us wondering, how did they know they would get the vaccine, and who benefitted from this trip?

The aircraft shows to be registered to TRN Aviation, LLC, a company that owns a fleet of aircraft. Flight websites show that particular jet making international trips to half a dozen Texas cities since February 1, 2021.

The KCBD Investigates team will continue to follow this story and pursue our unanswered questions in the weeks to come.

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