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Florida Vaccine Residency Requirements Could Leave Out Low-Income Residents

The state is requiring providers to see proof of state residency, but some legal experts say the people omitted are far more important to protect with a vaccine than tourists.

Florida has been getting international attention for vaccinating tourists against COVID-19, while seniors who live here still struggle to get appointments. Data from the Florida Department of Health show that 40,965 people from out of state have gotten vaccinated in Florida. Another 1,050 are listed as "unknown."

Last week, Gov. Ron DeSantis played down the numbers of tourists.

"Now we do have part-time residents who are here all winter. They go to doctors here, whatever. That's fine but what we don't want is people, tourists ... some of these hospitals have foreign clients and that's why you have a couple of these people that were in the news for this," DeSantis said at a press conference outside of a Publix in Rockledge. "We want to put seniors first but we obviously want to put people who live here first in line."

On Thursday, state Surgeon General Scott Rivkees signed a public health advisory which states that "prior to providing the first dose of the COVID-19 vaccine to the intended recipient, every vaccine provider in Florida should ensure the recipient of the vaccine is either: 1) a resident of the state of Florida" and 2) a person in Florida who's providing care to patients in person."

"My concern is not necessarily with someone who may fly to Florida from Sweden and try to get a vaccine," said Professor JoNel Newman, with the University of Miami’s School of Law. "But I'm very concerned about the statement Jackson Health System has made about what they are asking people to produce. These are things that will, in my view, run the risk of discriminating against many of our residents who simply can't produce that kind of documentation. And I fear also it'll produce a chilling effect [and people] won't even go get a vaccine that they may desperately need because they're afraid of what this documentation request means."

On Jan. 21, WLRN received the statement below from Jackson Health System listing the following documentation to prove U.S. residency in order to get a COVID-19 vaccine through their system:

"At Jackson Health System, our focus remains squarely on preventing the spread of COVID-19 by vaccinating as many people who live in our community as possible, but at the same time not create roadblocks to those who have limited access to extensive documentation. We have revised our policy and we are making every effort to verify U.S. residency. We are asking everyone to bring a U.S. government photo ID with their date of birth. If their ID is issued by a foreign government, the patient has to bring two documents that prove they reside in the United States such as a utility bill, lease, or property-tax statement. Vaccination is only available at this time to those who live in the United States.”

After the state surgeon general's advisory was put out Thursday, the hospital system changed its requirements to require proof of Florida residency:

"Jackson Health System has revised its residency requirements to align with the new state requirements, which dictates that a person must be a permanent or seasonal resident of Florida to receive the COVID vaccine. Our focus remains on preventing the spread of COVID-19 by vaccinating as many people who live in our community, and at the same time not create roadblocks to those who have limited access to extensive documentation. We are now asking everyone to bring a Florida photo ID with their date of birth. If their ID is not issued by the State of Florida, the patient has to bring two documents that prove they reside in Florida, such as a utility bill, lease agreement, or property-tax statement. These new guidelines do not apply to anyone who has already had their first vaccine at Jackson and will be returning in the coming weeks for their second shot. Those appointments will be honored."

Newman worries homeless or low-income people will get excluded from vaccination efforts, or immigrants like Haitian residents who live in Florida with Temporary Protected Status, or TPS.

"Jackson has intimate knowledge of this large sector of our community," said Newman, adding that in a pandemic, vaccines should not be kept from people based on their finances. "For Jackson to talk about requiring this kind of documentation is particularly problematic."

Copyright 2021 WLRN 91.3 FM. To see more, visit WLRN 91.3 FM.

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