FORT LAUDERDALE, Florida (AP) – Florida was one of the first states to offer vaccinations to members of the general public over 65, which sparked rumors that tourists and day-trippers only come in for the sting. State officials have been quick to refuse such a scuttlebutt.
Governor Ron DeSantis said the stories of people who fly to Florida, get vaccinated and return home are exaggerated. While there have been isolated reports of such intruders, DeSantis said the non-residents who get gunshots are almost exclusively “snowbirds,” residents who live in the state for several months during the winter and could infect others if not vaccinated.
“I think it’s perfectly fine if you want to be vaccinated,” the Republican governor said at a recent news conference. “It’s not like they’re only taking a two week vacation. … you have relationships with doctors. You will receive medical care in Florida. … So that’s a little different from someone who only does tourism. “
But Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat considering running DeSantis next year, said her office has received numerous complaints from Floridians who are angry that non-residents are being shot and claim some are not 65 or older . This adds to the complaints that vaccination appointments are gobbled up once they are posted, while phone and online registration systems keep crashing.
“This is a big problem,” said Fried. “We see lines all over the state of Florida. … I’ve spoken to seniors who have waited for hours. “
DeSantis’s ordinance on vaccine distribution currently limits the shots to those 65 and over, nursing home patients and frontline health professionals. The order doesn’t mention residence, but health officials say anyone who is vaccinated must certify that they will stay in the state for at least three more weeks to get their second required shot. In addition, the state health department has stated that any doctor or hospital that vaccinates younger patients who are not eligible could lose access to the vaccine.
Eligibility to vaccinate varies greatly from state to state. The federal centers for disease control and prevention said this week the states should follow the Florida model and focus vaccination efforts on those over 65, but the governors and health officials have set their own rules. As a result, seniors, teachers, police officers, firefighters, grocery store workers, and prison inmates keep different places in line depending on where they live.
Approximately 4% of the 650,000 people vaccinated in Florida are outside of the state. This is shown by the Ministry of Health records released this week. Approximately 2% of the 1.5 million people diagnosed with COVID-19 in Florida and the nearly 24,000 who have died of the disease there have not been resident.
DeSantis said Tuesday that foreigners and residents of other states who plan to travel to Florida long enough to get the shots have called vaccine registration hotlines, but they are turned away.
Some short-term visitors will be vaccinated, although it is impossible to tell how many. The Washington Post and New York Post reported last week that two wealthy New Jersey developers, brothers David and Bill Mack, used their nursing home connections to vaccinate themselves and members of their Palm Beach Country Club without a hotline or having to go to a hotline website.
And Argentine television personality Yanina Latorre said in an online video that her 80-year-old mother was vaccinated during her annual trip to South Florida, Miami-Dade County. She commended Florida officials for allowing outsiders to get shot. She stated that there is no vaccine in Argentina.
“I came to a country where the vaccine is legal for everyone over 65 and I got my mother vaccinated,” Latorre said. “I haven’t done anything illegal.”
DeSantis’ belief that snowbirds should be vaccinated has been confirmed by various officials across the state. Miami-Dade County’s Democratic Mayoress Daniella Levine Cava said the part-time visitors were practically residents. Many own houses or rent, which means they pay property taxes, directly or indirectly, and pay sales tax on their purchases.
Martin Firestone, a Toronto-based travel insurance broker for Canadian snowbirds, says 70% of its customers haven’t traveled to Florida this season because of the pandemic, but when the state announced that people 65 and over could be vaccinated, his phones rang again .
“Your friends who left in November let them know they’ve already received the first shot and if they made an appointment or came down they could get it too,” Firestone said.
Shelton Papple, a 66-year-old retired business owner from Ontario, came to his second home in Fort Myers last month, as he has for the past twelve years. He and his wife, who had a stroke last year and have a weakened immune system, are due to get a shot by their doctor in Florida in two weeks.
“This is a global situation. Every time someone is vaccinated, it is one less who could be affected, ”said Papple. “It’s a win-win situation. It has nothing to do with where you are from. “
Lush reported from St. Petersburg, Florida, and Calvan from Tallahassee, Florida. Associate Press Writer Adriana Gomez Licon and Gisela Salomon in Miami; Kelli Kennedy in Fort Lauderdale; and Haleluya Hadero in Atlanta contributed to this report.
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