Florida cracks down on vaccine tourism, requires proof of residency to get vaccinated for COVID-19

·3 min read
Florida cracks down on vaccine tourism, requires proof of residency to get vaccinated for COVID-19
Florida now requires that vaccine recipients show proof of residency before they can get vaccinated for COVID-19. There had been a backlash following reports of non-residents visiting the state just to get the shot.
Florida now requires that vaccine recipients show proof of residency before they can get vaccinated for COVID-19. There had been a backlash following reports of non-residents visiting the state just to get the shot.

(Joe Raedle/Getty Images)

Following news reports that out-of-state residents — including Canadians — are flocking to Florida to get the COVID-19 vaccine, the state is now requiring proof of residency for vaccine recipients.

"Today, State Surgeon General Dr. Scott Rivkees signed a Public Health Advisory prioritizing Florida residents for COVID-19 vaccinations given in Florida," said Samantha Bequer, spokesperson for the Florida Division of Emergency Management, in an email on Thursday.

When Florida rolled out its vaccination program in late December, it said anyone over the age of 65 could get the shot. But a limited vaccine supply and complaints that some people are jetting in just to get vaccinated has led the state to crack down on so-called vaccine tourism.

WATCH | Some snowbirds in Florida got the vaccine before some Floridians:

On Tuesday, CBC News reported that some Floridians were upset because they hadn't managed to book a vaccine appointment while some foreigners — including Canadian snowbirds — had already received their first dose in Florida.

"They're taking it from people that are ahead of them.… It's not their stockpile," said Clare Archer, 67, of Englewood Isles, Fla., south of Tampa.

But a residency requirement won't bar snowbirds from getting the vaccine, as long as they can prove they're living in Florida. According to Florida's public health advisory, seasonal residents must show proof they own a home in the state, are renting a property, or are currently living with someone who resides in Florida.

Documentation proving residency can include a utility bill, mortgage statement, lease agreement or a written statement from the owner of the home where a person is staying in Florida.

Canadian snowbird Shelton Papple, 66, of Brantford, Ont., is scheduled to get his first dose of the vaccine on Jan. 25 in Fort Myers, a city in southwestern Florida where he owns a home and is spending the winter.

"I'm not worried," he said. "I'm going to go in there loaded with ammunition.... I'm taking my tax bill and my utility bill."

Governor says snowbirds are OK

Canadian snowbirds in Florida seeking the vaccine also have the support of Gov. Ron DeSantis. At a news conference on Tuesday, DeSantis emphasized that while he's against short-term visitors getting the shot, seasonal residents are welcome to sign up.

"We do have part-time residents who are here all winter, they go to doctors here," DeSantis said. "We want our Florida residents [vaccinated] and that can include people that live here half the year, but it's not for people that are just visiting."

Sandra Papple
Sandra Papple

In Canada, seniors not living in a care facility could wait months to get the vaccine.

Papple said he has no qualms about getting the shot in Florida, because it's in the state's interest to vaccinate as many residents as possible.

But he said he understands why Florida wants to stop non-residents from swooping in to get vaccinated.

"I can see the political pressure that starts to mount when there isn't enough vaccines going around," he said. "The person that just flies in or crosses the border to get this shot, I would say, yes, that shouldn't be allowed."

While they can still get the vaccine, Canadian snowbirds planning to travel to Florida will soon face another hurdle. Effective Jan. 26, air passengers to the U.S. must first test negative for COVID-19 to be granted entry.

The Canadian government advises against non-essential travel abroad and requires proof of a negative COVID-19 test to return to Canada by air. International travellers must also quarantine for 14 days.