Scuttlebutt is circulating that Florida — among the first states to open COVID-19 vaccines to anyone over 65 — is getting a rush of medical tourists seeking vaccinations, the Associated Press reported on Thursday (Jan. 14).
State officials have denied the rumors, with Gov. Ron DeSantis calling such stories blown out of proportion. He said the majority of nonresidents getting shots are snowbirds who live there part-time and have previously established medical relationships in the community.
“It’s not like they’re just vacationing for two weeks. … They have relationships with doctors. They get medical care in Florida. … So that’s a little bit different than somebody that’s just doing tourism,” the governor said at a news conference, per AP.
Of the 650,000 people vaccinated in Florida, about 4 percent list an out-of-state primary residence, according to health records, per AP. About 2 percent of the people who were diagnosed with the coronavirus or died from it were also nonresidents. The state has seen 1.5 million cases of the virus and nearly 24,000 deaths.
Florida Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried said her office has fielded a number of complaints from senior citizens objecting that nonresidents and even people under 65 are taking all the vaccination appointments. Further, registration is difficult due to system crashes.
“This is a major issue,” said Fried, who is contemplating a run against the governor in 2023. “We are seeing lines all across the state of Florida. … I’ve talked to seniors who’ve waited hours upon hours.”
The governor had issued executive orders limiting shots to those 65 and above, as well as to nursing home patients and frontline healthcare workers. The order doesn’t mention residency, but health officials said that anyone receiving the shot has to affirm that they will be in the state for three weeks to get the second inoculation.
A proposed law in New York could make it illegal for the coronavirus vaccine to be sold or administered to residents trying to bypass the line. ParCare Community Health Network in New York is facing allegations that it lied to the health department in order to get the vaccine.
Vaccine eligibility was recently expanded nationwide to include anyone 65 and older.
The logjam in the distribution of the vaccines has caused a loss of confidence regarding an economic rebound.