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Florida Pushes Back On Reports Of Tourists Coming Just To Get COVID Shots

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
Associated Press
The Florida Channel
In this Wednesday, Jan. 6, 2021 photo, people arrive at Jackson Memorial Hospital to receive the COVID-19 vaccine in Miami. Florida was one of the first states to throw open vaccine eligibility to members of the general public over 65, leading to rumors that tourists and day-trippers are swooping into the state solely for the jab. Gov. Ron DeSantis said stories of the rich flying to Florida, getting vaccinated and returning home are overblown.

Gov. Ron DeSantis has said the nonresidents getting shots are almost entirely people who live in the state for several months during the winter and who could infect others if they aren’t vaccinated.

Florida officials are pushing back against claims that nonresidents are swooping into the state to get vaccinated.

The state was one of the first to open vaccine eligibility to members of the general public over age 65. That has led to rumors that day-trippers are visiting only to get inoculated and then leaving again.

Gov. Ron DeSantis and other officials say 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.

“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.”

Health department records released this week show that about 4 percent of the 650,000 people who have been inoculated in Florida list an out-of-state residence.

DeSantis said Tuesday that 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.

“We are discouraging people to come to Florida just to get a vaccine,” DeSantis told reporters in Miami last week.. “I think if they called Jackson (Memorial Hospital) and said, ‘Hey, I'm in New York, I can't get vaccinated, can I come down,’ we would say, ‘don't do that.' ”

Some short-time visitors do 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.

The Wall Street Journal reported that interest is up from Canadians who are looking to travel to the U.S. for vaccinations, citing Momentum Jets, a private jet service provider in Toronto.

Martin Firestone, a Toronto-based travel insurance broker for Canadian snowbirds, told the Associated Press that 70 percent of his clients didn’t go to Florida this season because of the pandemic, but once the state announced people 65 and older could get vaccinated, his phones started ringing again.

Information from News Service of Florida was used in this report.

Associated Press
The Associated Press is one of the largest and most trusted sources of independent newsgathering, supplying a steady stream of news to its members, international subscribers and commercial customers. AP is neither privately owned nor government-funded; instead, it's a not-for-profit news cooperative owned by its American newspaper and broadcast members.