Seniors are jetting off to Florida — but it’s not warm weather they’re seeking.
The state was one of the first to begin offering vaccines to people ages 65 and older, by executive order on Dec. 23. According to local news reports in Florida, the state is seeing an influx of “vaccine tourists,” out-of-state travelers hoping to jump ahead in line for the coronavirus vaccine.
It’s not just impatient Americans scurrying to the front. Momentum Jets, a Toronto-based private airline, told the Wall Street Journal that wealthy Canadians have been willing to pay between $25,000 to $80,000 for same day, round-trip flights with the carrier.
A spokesperson for Travel Secure Inc., a travel insurance brokerage agency, added that some 30% of clientele booked flights for the Southern US during the month of November — believing those folks had gone to receive their first dose of vaccine or set an appointment for one.
Governor Ron DeSantis insisted on Tuesday that the state would not allow one-time visitors arriving for the vaccine, clarifying that so-called “snowbirds,” or dual-state residents who weather their winters in the South, would be permitted, the Orlando-Sentinel reported.
“We’re not doing any tourists,” he said during a press conference, broadcast from Florida retirement community the Villages.
Nearly 800,000 have already received the first poke, according to the Florida Department of Health, where almost 500,000 of them were part of the 65 and over age group.
The trend is putting the squeeze on already strained hospitals, clinics and local health officials, who complained of a lack of support from the state and federal governments in terms of vaccine implementation.
“It’s very unstable and very frustrating for the population,” Dr. Mary Jo Trepka, an
epidemiologist at Florida International University, told WSJ. “There are many worried people who want a vaccine and can’t get it.”
In Miami, the Jackson Health System, a network of more than 40 hospitals and health centers, stated they’re taking all measures to verify state residency among vaccine recipients, but they won’t turn away part-time residents, either.
“Regardless of where someone lives, if they are spending time in our community — on our beaches, in our restaurants, in our malls — they can be spreaders of this virus,” they said in a statement.
The DOH stressed that vaccine tourism, those who “come into Florida for one day to receive the vaccine and leave the next,” is prohibited. They’re asking that “all suspected incidents … immediately” be reported to a local health department branch.
When news broke earlier this week that Yanina Latorre, an Argentinian television personality, had enlisted fans to help bring her 80-year-old mother to Miami for the vaccine, Miami’s Mayor Francis Suarez vowed to take action.
“I’m totally in disagreement with people from out of town coming and getting the
vaccine before City of Miami residents,” said Mayor Suarez. “I will look
into all legal options to prevent this from happening.”