Elderly Florida residents have dealt with long lines and wait times during the vaccine rollout. Octavio Jones/Getty Images
Florida is offering COVID-19 vaccines to adults aged 65 and up, and it’s not requiring proof of residency.
Some part-time residents and well-connected people from out of state are flying south to get their shots.
The governor discouraged vaccine tourism, but he said it’s OK for out-of-staters who winter in Florida to get vaccinated.
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Although many states are now expanding their eligibility criteria for the COVID-19 vaccine, Florida was one of the first to offer the shot to adults aged 65 and older. The state’s broad vaccination plan has attracted travelers hoping to take advantage from near and far.
Vaccine-seekers have flocked to Florida from Canada and Argentina, as well as New York and other states, according to the Wall Street Journal.
Governor Ron DeSantis said in a press conference last week that most of these visitors are in fact part-time residents, not so-called “vaccine tourists.” “If they have a residence and they’re not just kind of flying by night for a week or two, I’m totally fine with that,” DeSantis said, according to the Journal. “That’s a little bit different than somebody that’s just doing tourism and trying to come here. So we’re discouraging people to come to Florida just to get a vaccine.”
However, the state’s current plan does not require proof of Florida residency for someone to get vaccinated.
Read more: People are randomly getting vaccinated at pharmacies because of extra doses that need to be used before they expire
One 66-year-old woman from Buenos Aires told the Journal she was visiting family in Miami and decided to take advantage of the vaccine while she was there, since the shot is not widely available in Argentina. She went to an official vaccination site in Tampa, showed her passport as identification and proof of travel insurance, and got a shot.
Other vaccine-seekers from out of state got vaccinated in Florida through more insidious means.
The Washington Post reported that two wealthy New Jersey developers, David and Bill Mack, circumvented official vaccine distribution and got their shots thanks to their connections with a Florida nursing home. Other members and donors associated with a country club that donates to the nursing home also got vaccinated.
Some vaccine tourists are ‘snowbirds’ who normally spend a season down south
Many “snowbirds”Â – people who live in colder climates and migrate to Florida for the winter – canceled their trips this year due to the pandemic, but some are now considering rescheduling in light of the vaccine rollout, a Canadian travel insurance booker told CBS12 News.
“Canadians who had no intentions of going down in their traditional November-April period have now become interested because of the [vaccine] availability and are now starting to make arrangements to head south,” Martin Firestone, president of Travel Secure, told the outlet. “They all have it on their radar. There’s tremendous interest.”
Firestone told CBS12 all of the clients he’s spoken to are part-time Florida residents, not vaccine tourists.
If the snowbirds are planning on extending their visits, rather than flying in for the vaccine and returning home, it could be in the best interest of Florida communities to vaccinate their part-time residents.
“Regardless of where someone lives, if they are spending time in our community-on our beaches, in our restaurants, in our malls-they can be spreaders of this virus,” a representative of the Miami Jackson County Health Department told the Wall Street Journal.
For instance, a couple from Bethlehem, New York, told local paper the Times Union they flew to Florida and each received a dose of the Moderna vaccine on January 7. They’ve since returned to New York, but they plan to spend the rest of the winter in the Sunshine State after they get their second shots.
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