Florida restricts COVID-19 vaccines to state residents as tourists flock to take advantage of quick roll-out

Florida’s efforts in rolling out and distributing COVID-19 vaccines have apparently been so successful it is attracting thousands of out-of-state tourists, forcing state officials to restrict the limited doses to permanent residents only.

A two-page advisory issued by state Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees restricts vaccines to be given only to those who can prove they reside in Florida. The advisory came after Florida officials fielded complaints that people from as far away as Canada and Argentina, among other countries, were flocking to the Sunshine State for a vaccine.

In addition, American citizens from other states were also traveling to Florida to take “advantage of Florida’s policy of providing shots to anyone aged 65 and older,” the Sun-Sentinel newspaper reported.

Other countries have only been providing scarce vaccines to frontline medical workers and residents of nursing homes and extended-care facilities.

Rivkees’ advisory follows previous reports that out-of-state residents and people from other countries were being given COVID-19 vaccines ahead of full-time residents. According to a daily vaccine report from the Florida Department of Health, some 40,965 out-of-state residents had been administered vaccines, as of Thursday. The report did not say how many were from outside the country.

In all, health officials in the state have vaccinated nearly 1.2 million people.

For his part, Gov Ron DeSantis (R) said he doesn’t have an issue with part-time state residents traveling to get a shot but he is against “vaccine tourism” where people fly in from other states and other countries to get one.

“The COVID-19 vaccine remains scarce within the United States and vaccine availability in Florida is extremely limited,” says the advisory, which goes on to instruct healthcare workers to get proof of residency from anyone trying to get a vaccine. Before the advisory, people only had to provide proof they were 65 or older.

DeSantis has been praised for his handling of coronavirus-related lockdowns in which he prioritized protecting residents in elder-care facilities, as well as his vaccine rollout, which is proceeding apace.

Earlier this week, Canada-based CBC News reported that citizens north of the border were traveling to Florida and elsewhere to get a vaccine, which is very limited in their country — despite the Canadian government’s advisory not to travel during the pandemic.

But the influx of residents of other countries and states is sparking a backlash among full-time Florida residents.

“We’re first. Get to the end of the line if they want to come,” said resident Judy Allen in an interview with a local NBC affiliate, CBC News reported.

Meanwhile, Canadian snowbirds Andrew Paton, 75, and his wife, Jill, 74, both got their first doses at a clinic in Palm City, where they own a home in a gated community. They are scheduled for their follow-up shot on Feb. 4.

“I’m just glad I got it,” Andrew Paton, of Toronto, said. “Our American friends are thrilled. We’re part of this community. Let’s get everybody vaccinated if we can.”

That said, shortly after the couple received their first vaccine, someone wrote a note to their community board complaining that Canadian citizens were offered vaccines before Americans.

“It’s ridiculous,” Paton responded. “We’re not taking it from anybody. Everybody in this community who wanted one could get one.”

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Jon Dougherty

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