Florida has taken aim at “vaccine tourism” after Governor Ron DeSantis said the state would only offer doses of the coronavirus shot to residents.
Dr Scott Rivkees, Florida’s surgeon general, signed a public health advisory on Thursday laying out rules requiring vaccine providers to confirm that patients live in the state, either full- or part-time. The move comes in response to reports of people travelling to states like Florida to get the vaccine amid a slow rollout in parts of the US and other countries.
The order notes that doses “remain scarce” in the US and “availability in Florida is extremely limited”.
Officials in some counties had already warned this week that vaccinations would be limited to Floridians and seasonal residents going forward.
In Seminole County, north of Orlando, anyone who wants the vaccine will need to show proof that they own or rent property in Florida, such as a driver’s licence, utility bill or rent payment, emergency management director Alan Harris told the Orlando Sentinel.
Local reports also indicated that Volusia, Brevard and Manatee counties would implement similar requirements.
Visitors account for a small portion of the doses administered in Florida so far. More than 1.1m people have received at least one dose, and 39,214 of them – or 3.5 per cent – are from out of state, according to a daily report from the state’s health department.
Still, officials have raised concerns about people making quick trips to Florida to get vaccinated.
“To just kind of come in from another country or whatever, we don’t support that, and we’re not going to allow that,” Mr DeSantis said on Tuesday. “We’re not doing ‘vaccine tourism.’”
The crackdown will not apply to winter residents who live in the Sunshine State for at least part of the year.
“We want to put seniors first, but we obviously want to put people that live here first in line,” the governor said. “And that can include people that live here half the year. But it’s not for people that are just visiting.”
Florida, a popular destination for “snowbirds” from the US and Canada, opened its vaccine programme to people over the age of 65 in late December, bucking federal guidance that at the time gave equal consideration to people over 75 and workers defined as essential, such as grocery store employees. The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention pivoted last week and urged all states to begin vaccinating seniors.
This post was updated to include the public health advisory from Florida’s surgeon general.