Florida soon requiring residency proof for COVID vaccines

Fighting rumors and allegations of so-called “vaccine tourism,” Florida soon will require proof of residency for people getting COVID-19 vaccines.

“We’re only doing [vaccines] for Florida, Florida residents,” Gov. Ron DeSantis said. “You got to live here either full time or at least part time.”

Florida was one of the first states to throw open vaccine eligibility to members of the general public over 65, leading to rumors tourists and day-trippers are swooping in solely for the jab. State officials have been moving to disavow such rumors.

Florida has reported 1.6 million COVID-19 cases and 24,578 deaths from the virus, according to the state health department.

Earlier this month, DeSantis said stories of people flying to Florida, getting vaccinated and returning home were overblown. While there have been scattered reports of such interlopers, DeSantis said the nonresidents who are getting shots are almost entirely “snowbirds,” residents who live in the state for several months during the winter and who could infect others if they aren’t vaccinated.

People who show up now for vaccines in Seminole County, Florida, will be asked to show their Florida ID or a utility bill to get the shot, according to WFTV. The new policy, which applies to state-run vaccination sites, is being extended to other Florida counties.

According to the latest report from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, Florida is in a “full-blown COVID-19 resurgence” and can expect “significant fatalities” from this third wave.

Agriculture Commissioner Nikki Fried, a Democrat who is contemplating a run against DeSantis next year, said her office is getting numerous complaints from Floridians who are angry that nonresidents are getting shots and who allege that some are not 65 or older. That is on top of complaints that vaccination appointments are gobbled up as soon as they are posted, while phone and online registration systems keep crashing.

“This is a major issue,” Fried said. “We are seeing lines all across the state of Florida. I’ve talked to seniors who’ve waited hours upon hours.”

DeSantis’ executive order governing vaccine distribution currently limits shots to people 65 and older, nursing home patients and frontline medical workers. The order makes no mention of residency, but health officials say anyone getting vaccinated must attest they will remain in the state for at least three additional weeks to get their second required shot. In addition, the state health department has said any doctor or hospital that inoculates younger patients who aren’t eligible could lose access to the vaccine.

Vaccine eligibility varies widely by state. The Atlanta-based Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said this week that states should follow Florida’s model and concentrate vaccination efforts on those 65 and older, but governors and health officials have crafted their own rules. As a result, senior citizens, teachers, police, firefighters, grocery store workers and prison inmates all hold different places in line depending on where they live.

About 4% of the 650,000 people who have been inoculated in Florida list an out-of-state residence, health department records released this week show. About 2% of both the 1.5 million people who have been diagnosed in Florida with COVID-19 and the nearly 24,000 who have died there of the disease have been nonresidents.

DeSantis said Tuesday there have been calls to vaccine registration hotlines from foreigners and residents of other states who want to travel to Florida only long enough to get the shots, but they are turned away.

Some short-time visitors get vaccinated, although it is impossible to say 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 connections with a nursing home to get themselves and members of their Palm Beach country club vaccinated without having to go through a hotline or website.

DeSantis’ sentiment that snowbirds should be inoculated has been echoed by various officials statewide. Miami-Dade County Mayor Daniella Levine Cava, a Democrat, said the part-time visitors are practically residents. Many own homes or rent, meaning they pay property taxes directly or indirectly, and pay sales taxes on their purchases.